Blu-ray Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys - Twilight Time Limited Edition

By , Contributor
So many people know and love The Fabulous Baker Boys, it's hard to believe so few people saw it during its original theatrical run in 1989. According to Box Office Mojo, this critically-acclaimed film was only the 60th highest-grossing of that year. It may not have drawn in moviegoers, but it sure garnered an audience on home video in subsequent years. Which brings us to the newly-released, limited Blu-ray edition (only 3,000 copies pressed) from Twilight Time. If you haven't seen it, or maybe haven't seen it in awhile, this high def presentation is the prefect opportunity. Baker Boys is a gem of a character piece, boasting not just an iconic, Oscar-nominated performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, but also extremely well-drawn turns by the Bridges brothers, Jeff and Beau.

Writer-director Steve Kloves (screenwriter of all but one of the Harry Potter movies) tells the story of a pair of aging lounge pianists, Jack and Frank Baker (Jeff and Beau, respectively). They skip around from one Seattle nightspot to another, playing tasteful but somewhat quaint piano duets. Married man Frank is all about business, but bookings have grown increasingly scarce. Bachelor Jack, a more gifted musician than his capable but dull brother, is getting burnt out playing the same dinner theaters. Kloves captures the down-and-out vibe perfectly. There's an unspoken respect and love between the Baker boys, but their routine has stagnated. At times it seems like they can barely stand each other's company.

Things get interesting when singer and "on-call escort" Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer) turns up late at the brothers' audition. This is after we get the obligatory, cliched, but still amusing parade of terrible candidates, all warbling off key. Michelle Pfeiffer pretty much walks off with the picture at this point. To their credit, the Bridges brothers let her. Singing standards like "Makin' Whoopee" and "More Than You Know" herself, Pfeiffer feels absolutely authentic in the role. She's manages to put just the right spin on her line readings to sidestep cliche at every turn. The streetwise, brash-but-sexy Susie could've easily been a stock character in lesser hands, but Pfeiffer more than earns the accolades she received.

Baker Boys doesn't have much forward plot momentum. It feels almost meandering as it tracks the resurgence of the boys' bookings in light of Susie's presence. The romantic entanglement between Jack and Susie causes friction among the three-piece music act, but director Kloves avoids overt melodrama or excessive sentimentality. This finely-drawn character study deserves to be revisited as well as expand its audience. Only Dave Grusin's cheesy smooth jazz score dates this one in a negative way.

Michael Ballhaus' cinematography scored a Oscar-nomination. This 1080p, high definition transfer may not turn any heads, but it's a solid, clean presentation. Audio is DTS-HD MA 2.0 and, while it sounds good, some viewers may be disappointed there isn't a 5.1 mix. Given the focus on music, a surround remix might seem like a natural. As it stands, what we get is the film's authentic original mix and it's a simple but great listening experience.

A nice array of bonus material complements The Fabulous Baker Boys, including a brand-new audio commentary featuring writer-director Steve Kloves with film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. There's also an older commentary track by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Additionally there are about 20 minutes of deleted scenes. Twilight Time has included their customary isolated music tracks. Julie Kirgo also penned another reliably insightful liner notes essay, found in the Blu-ray booklet.

The Fabulous Baker Boys Blu-ray is strictly limited to 3,000 copies. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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