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Fabulous Baker Boys, The
The Fabulous Baker Boys has a premise that seems tailor-made for a happy-go-lucky old Hollywood screwball comedy, with some dazzling musical numbers to boot, but refreshingly decides to play it as a grounded and credible drama.
The setup involves two piano player brothers named Jack and Frank Baker (real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges, respectively), who perform light and accessible jazz tunes to disinterested patrons at various restaurants and clubs across Seattle.
The brothers have been at it for over a decade, and they need something fresh to bring in more money, so they decide to audition for a singer. Cue the gorgeous, talented, but abrasive and undependable Susie (Michelle Pfeiffer), who's the kind of girl who's not even a bit apprehensive about the fact that her previous employment was at an escort service at first meet.
A traditional light comedy would have focused on the brothers lightly fighting against one another for Susie's affections, the conflict ending with an amicable understanding from both parties (The Hollywood rule would also state that the better-looking brother would end up with Susie).
However, writer-director Steve Kloves steers around any of the traditional genre trappings of such a premise and delivers a taut character study seldom found in mid-budget studio dramas anymore (The mid-budget studio dramas themselves seem to have disappeared).
This is especially interesting considering that Kloves has found a second life in his career as the writer who adapted almost all of the Harry Potter books. Susie isn't used as a manic pixie dream girl who swoops in and gives the brothers' humdrum existence meaning but serves as the catalyst for the brothers to dig deep into the underlying issues that have plagued them long before Susie entered the picture.
Jack is a much bigger talent than someone who's relegated to paint-by-keys playing at places where no one even notices him. He once tried to make something of his more complex Jazz skills but failed, so now he goes through a depressed existence that feels like a musical purgatory.
Susie brings out that passion in him and therefore, makes him realize that maybe a professional life with his brother isn't the way to go. But the brothers' inability to openly communicate with one another, the opposite emotional stance to the more boisterous and filterless Susie, results in a powder keg that will eventually explode. When that moment comes, Kloves ignores any melodramatic trappings of the narrative and instead settles for a bittersweet resolution that feels earned.
The film takes place in dark nightclubs in the dark, within a city that's known for being cold, so there are a lot of soft blues and drab neon energy in The Fabulous Baker Boys. The 1080p transfer showcases this look in a vibrant fashion without any clear color bleeding or artifacts. There are some telecine dots here and there from the original HD master, but nothing that gets in the way of enjoying the movie.
The Lossless LPCM 2.0 track shows great dynamic range, especially when it comes to the musical numbers, and showcases a smooth communication of the slow jazz songs. A 5.1 remix would have certainly been welcome in this case, but MVD is a niche distributor, so they probably didn't have the budget for it.
Commentary by Steve Kloves, with Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman: The commentary digs into the film's long pre-production process and how Kloves ended up as the director for his script. There are a lot of interesting production details here.
Commentary by Michael Ballhaus: The director of photography gets into a lot of technical detail about what it was like to shoot in Seattle and capture the cold look that Kloves was going for.
Deleted Scenes: A whopping 20 minutes of deleted material, with some long scenes that add more character detail in between short snippets.
1989 Featurette: A typical short EPK from the period that shows more of the footage from the film than behind-the-scenes interviews.
1989 Interview with Jeff and Beau Bridges: This quaint short shows the chemistry between the brothers but doesn't give much else.
1989 Interview with Michelle Pfeiffer: A very short EPK interview.
We also get a Trailer and TV Spots.
The Fabulous Baker Boys is the kind of grounded mid-budget Hollywood drama that doesn't really exist anymore. The new Blu-ray does justice to the film.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com