The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) Directed by Steve Kloves
Oh to be a musician in 2011. As economics dictate the pursuit of artistic endeavors, weather on a professional or amateur basis, the ability to dream and to create something that transcends becomes increasingly fraught. In 2011 musicians generally have to balance many artistic urges with the mundane reality that they have to earn a living to be able to fulfill any such longing. It hasn't always been like this, but finding an escape route to realize your own creativity is harder to sustain. Times change. In a dumbing-down of popular culture so do people's expectations. In a different way changing attitudes dictate that the Baker brothers move on from their schmaltzy two piano easy listening shtick and bring on the sex. Cue lead singer Michelle Pfeiffer in some very skimpy dresses.
The Fabulous Baker Boys has a romance lodged in its plot lines, it offers some sentimental resistance. But the film works best as a cynical look at the dynamics between performing musicians (in this case sibling piano players), art against commercialism and the lonely life of a jobbing musician. It's weird that a picture that on the face of it is promoted as a love story (between Pfeiffer and Jeff Bridges laconic piano genius) actually shows some well considered realities that a thousand music bio-pics tend to brush over.
Yes, there are some cliches here, but the Bridges brothers (Beau and Jeff) are perfectly cast and Pfeiffer delivers her best turn. She sings her own songs as Susie Diamond. Not the greatest voice ever, but combined with her personality and attitude, it's not hard to imagine Pfeiffer could have had an alternative career fronting a post-punk pop band. Astrid commented that the music in the picture by Dave Grusin probably sounded dated a while ago and now sounds fresh (the new Destroyer album has echoes). The same could be said of Pfeiffers outfits. A perfect example of the prescience of the picture is when Diamond leaves the band to pursue a career singing advertising jingles about vegetables. Classy.
The late 1980s and early 1990s are rapidly becoming a vintage era for film. A cheesy soundtrack with soprano saxophone and early digital synthesizers suddenly supplies honest emotion, when for many years this kind of film scoring just appeared to be a sign of our tacky past. Also, Michelle Pfeiffer's clashing bright colored outfits, lots of gold and silver, huge earrings and messy hair all appear surprisingly inspiring, instead of the memory I had of them as offensive. There is an element of unpolished reality and disorder in The Fabulous Baker Boys, which rarely makes it to the screen these days. The stars even smoke – how unhealthy of them.
Of course, what really draws me into the film is the subject matter. Two jobbing musicians (brothers even) decide they need a singer to liven up their out-of-date piano duo. They end up with Susie Diamond, a rough-edged but gorgeous escort who quickly changes the dynamic of how they work – and live, as for musicians living and working tends to be the same thing.
Susie turns out to be much more popular than the piano boys, but she is also opinionated, erratic and a woman. Apparently, being a woman in music means that work and romance must be mixed. Being a woman in music also means that you will always stick out no matter what. I have tried to feebly argue against this claim in life, but know I am not a great example for the opposition. So, being a woman and a singer means that the more time she spends with the single and fabulous Baker Boy (Jeff Bridges) the more likely he will have to fall in love with her. There you have a romantic movie.
It is no co-incidence that the film represents Susie as a kind of whore and likens the job of a musician to selling oneself. There is something culturally disturbing still in the figure of a woman as a musician. Luckily, the love of a male musician can legitimize her...Thankfully, The Fabulous Baker Boys portrays the less successful and average career players, who do not mix with glamor and excess. To go on and to not lose the dream – there's the challenge.