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The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) is an Americanmarker romantic drama film written and directed by Steve Kloves, and starring Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges as two brothers struggling to make a living as lounge jazz pianists in Seattlemarker. In desperation, they take on a female singer, Michelle Pfeiffer, who revitalises their careers, causing the brothers to re-examine their relationship with each other and with their music.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Michelle Pfeiffer), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Score.

One critic described this film as "one of the movies they will use as a document, years from now, when they begin to trace the steps by which Pfeiffer became a great star."


Jack Baker (Jeff Bridges) and Frank Baker (Beau Bridges) are brothers, living in Seattlemarker, making a meagre living playing in seedy lounges and piano bars. In despair, they hold auditions for a female singer to join the outfit, ending up with the beautiful but hard-nosed Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former escort with unusual charisma. The new act, with Susie headlining, becomes unexpectedly successful and leads to bigger gigs and better money, but the sexual tension between Susie and Jack reaches boiling point at a New Year's Eve show, and in the absence of dutiful husband and father Frank, they give in to their urges. However, Jack's inability to express his feelings leads their relationship to disintegrate, at the same time as Frank and Jack's brotherly feud escalates. The act eventually breaks up, and Susie moves on to pastures new, while the brothers reconcile.




Steve Kloves wrote The Fabulous Baker Boys after his first script, Racing with the Moon (1985) was made into a motion picture. Three years after the screenplay was first acquired for production by Paula Weinstein, the picture was greenlighted by Gladden Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox with Kloves directing.

Jeff Bridges was Kloves's first choice for the role of Jack Baker. "Jeff, for me, is like the old time actors who you never know are acting; he's seamless - you just never see him working at it." Jeff's brother, Beau Bridges, was then shown the script, although he admitted he was a "little reluctant since Jeff had initiated it and I didn't want anyone to feel that big brother had been forced upon them. By the time I'd finished reading the script, however, I would have killed to have done it." According to Kloves, "Beau has the most wonderful knack of making memorable moments out of simple gestures."

For the plum role of Susie Diamond, actresses such as Madonna, Debra Winger, Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster and Jennifer Jason Leigh were considered. Madonna was highly critical of the finished picture, calling it "too mushy." The role eventually went to Michelle Pfeiffer. Kloves was quoted as saying that "Michelle is the icing on the cake. Her Susie Diamond is right on the mark - and she is a wonderful singer. Michelle is an actress with unlimited range." Pfeiffer, despite having already sung on screen in her cinematic début, Grease 2 (1982), was never a professionally-trained singer; she started taking voice lessons two months before filming commenced. Her vocal coach, Sally Stevens, commended her dedication: "She was singing these songs in a very exposed way - no strings or lush orchestrations to hide behind, just a piano. She worked ten hours a day in the studio and then took the tapes home with her to study them." In preparation for the most famous scene, a rendition of 'Makin' Whoopee' atop a grand piano that took six hours to film, Pfeiffer only had one choreography lesson, and wore knee and elbow pads during rehearsals.

Composer and jazz pianist Dave Grusin dubbed Jeff Bridges's piano playing, while John F. Hammond dubbed Beau Bridges.

Principal photography began on December 5, 1988. Though set in Seattle, Washingtonmarker, The Fabulous Baker Boys was filmed primarily on location in Los Angeles, Californiamarker.


The Fabulous Baker Boys currently holds a rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating overwhelmingly positive reviews. The film was released on October 13, 1989, in 858 theaters, grossing USD $3.3 million in its opening weekend, before going on to make $18.4 million, above its $11.5 million budget.

Pauline Kael in The New Yorker wrote of the film as a "romantic fantasy that has a forties-movie sultriness and an eighties movie-struck melancholy. Put them together and you have a movie in which eighties glamour is being defined." Richard Schickel in Time called the film "a Hollywood rarity these days, a true character comedy... The wary way in which she [Susie] and Jack circle in on a relationship is one of the truest representations of modern romance that the modern screen has offered." Janet Maslin in the New York Times described it as a "film specializing in smoky, down-at-the-heels glamour, and in the kind of smart, slangy dialogue that sounds right without necessarily having much to say." Rita Kempley in the Washington Post wrote that "Kloves is a nostalgic young man whose passion for Ella Fitzgerald records, film noir and romantic melodrama mesh in this classic directorial début. The Fabulous Baker Boys is like a beloved movie from the glory days of Hollywood. It transports you. It's an American rhapsody." Time Out wrote that "with more than enough witty, well-observed details, it's a little charmer... understatement is crucial to the script's success." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times was of the opinion that "The Fabulous Baker Boys doesn't do anything very original, but what it does, it does wonderfully well."

The look and atmosphere of the film were highly praised. The New York Times wrote that the "warm, rich hues of Michael Ballhaus's cinematography contribute immeasurably to the film's invitingly intimate glow." Time thought that Steve Kloves and his "fine cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, have created a gently dislocating noirish mood - not quite menacing but not exactly comfortable either - and let it speak for itself. It is a setting where actors can live and breathe like real people." Desson Howe in the Washington Post wrote that "the man [Ballhaus] who, among many films, shot Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, James L. Brooks's Broadcast News and Mike Nichols's Working Girl, gives human skin a peachy glow, frames a seduction scene (involving back-caressing and parted lips) that's the next best thing to being there and, in what amounts to the visual zenith of the movie, paints a champagne-drinking balcony scene with appropriately moonlit intoxication."

Michelle Pfeiffer's performance drew rave reviews from almost every critic. The New York Times called her "as unexpected a choice for this musical bombshell as Jeff Bridges is for Jack, but, like him, she proves to be electrifyingly right... when Ms. Pfeiffer, draped across Jeff Bridges's piano and setting some new standard for cinematic slinkiness, performs in the above-mentioned New Year's Eve sequence with the camera gliding hypnotically around her, she just plain brings down the house." The Chicago Sun-Times wrote of this film as "the movie of her flowering - not just as a beautiful woman, but as an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels... Whatever she's doing while she performs that song ['Makin' Whoopee'] isn't merely singing; it's whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn't want her to stop." The New Yorker thought that she recalled "the grinning infectiousness of Carole Lombard, the radiance of the very young Lauren Bacall, and Pfeiffer herself in other movies." Time described her as "a cat with at least nine dimensions ever aflicker in her eyes." Variety wrote that "Pfeiffer hits the nail right on the head. She also hits the spot in the film's certain-to-be-remembered highlight - a version of 'Makin' Whoopee' that she sings while crawling all over a piano in a blazing red dress. She's dynamite." The Washington Post described her as "slinky and cynical, more Bacall than Bacall. Like the sun through a magnifying glass, she burns an image on the screen."

Jeff Bridges and his brother, Beau Bridges, were also acclaimed for their performances. Time thought that "the Bridges boys are better than fabulous in it - Jeff not quite falling over the line into unredeemable cynicism, Beau never succumbing to the pull of moral blandness." The New Yorker wrote that "Jeff Bridges has never been as glamorously beyond reach as he is here." The New York Times thought that "Beau Bridges also has a chance to shine." The Washington Post was of the opinion that "Jeff Bridges, lean, sexy and contemptuous, is more than up to it in this, his best work to date... Beau Bridges, all pudgy and wounded, makes a subtle villain of the fussy, guilt-inflicting Frank."

The Fabulous Baker Boys was ranked at #12 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "25 Sexiest Movies Ever".

Awards and nominations

The Fabulous Baker Boys was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Michelle Pfeiffer won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, beating off competition from Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Andie MacDowell and Liv Ullmann. She also won various critics awards, including the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress, the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but lost both to Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Dave Grusin's soundtrack won the Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Original Film Score and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score - Motion Picture. The film also won the BAFTA Award for Best Sound.

Steve Kloves was presented with the Sutherland Trophy by the British Film Institute, and was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award.

Michael Ballhaus was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and won the LAFCA Award for Best Cinematography and the NSFC Award for Best Cinematography.

Beau Bridges won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor.

William Steinkamp was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Awarding Body Award Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer nomination
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus nomination
Best Film Editing William Steinkamp nomination
Best Music, Original Score Dave Grusin nomination
BAFTA Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Michelle Pfeiffer nomination
Best Original Film Score Dave Grusin nomination
Best Sound J. Paul Huntsman
Stephan von Hase
Chris Jenkins
Gary Alexander
Doug Hemphill

British Film Institute Sutherland Trophy Steve Kloves winner
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer winner
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Michelle Pfeiffer winner
Best Original Score - Motion Picture Dave Grusin nomination
Grammy Awards Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Dave Grusin winner
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer winner
(tied with Andie MacDowell)
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus winner
National Board of Review Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer winner
National Society of Film Critics Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer winner
Best Supporting Actor Beau Bridges winner
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus winner
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer winner
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Steve Kloves nomination


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