Fabulous Baker Boys, The (1989): Romantic Melodrama, Featuring Michelle Pfeiffer in Best Performance

Steve Kloves’ highly entertaining directorial debut, The Fabulous Baker Boys, centers on the Baker boys (played by real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges), siblings who have a two-piano act that plays at Seattle’s downbeat cocktail lounges.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

he Fabulous Baker Boys

Theatrical release poster

Though working together for years, there’s inherent tension in their interactions as the two brothers represent opposite types. Jake (Jeff Bridges) is a bitter loner whose ambition is to be a jazz musician, not a hack. In contrast, Frank (Beau Bridges) is a family man content to spend his days giving piano lessons and his nights doing cheery canned repartee and playing pop tunes with his brother.

The only thing the loser-brothers agree about is that their act needs some new blood, new energy to jazz it up, since they don’t get many engagements and some of the existing ones are cancelled.

Enter Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer at her most beautiful), a tough, cynical former hooker, whose presence immediately revives the act, but it also complicates matters when Jeff falls for her.

As writer, Kloves is responsible for sharp and biting dialogue, and he is also good as a helmer, considering that this is his first feature. He creates the right mood and atmosphere for each scene.

Kloves has coaxed strong performances from the central trio of thesps, particularly Pfeiffer, who has one show-stopping number (“Makin’ Whoopee”) that she sings atop a piano in a sexy red dress.  It’s an indelible image, courtesy of the brilliant cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Oscar-nominated).


Jake Baker (Jeff Bridges)

Frank Baker (Beau Bridges)

Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Nina (Ellie Raab)

Lloyd (Xander Berkeley)Charlie (Dakin Matthews)

Ray (Ken Lerner)

Henry (Albert Hall)

Girl in bed (Terri Treas)

Vince Nancy (Gregory Itzin)

Curio Items

You can spot Jennifer Tilly (then better known as sister of Meg) as a ditzy singer, rendering an awkward version of “Candy Man.”

Auteur Alert

Steve Kloves would go on to script the “Harry Potter” film franchise.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Actress: Michelle Pfeiffer

Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus

Original Score: David Grusin

Film Editing: William Steinnkamp

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

“Fabulous Baker Boys” lost in each of its four nominated categories.  In 1989, Michelle Pfeiffer swept most of the critics kudos for her fabulous performance, but the winner was Jessica Tandy in “Driving Miss Daisy”; the sentimental factor worked in Tandy’s favor, plus it’s always easier to win if you performance is contained in a Best Picture nominee, as Tandy’s was in “Miss Daisy,” which won Best Picture.

The Cinematography Oscar went to vet Freddie Francis for “Glory”; the Editing Oscar went to David Brenner and Joe Hutshing for “Born on the Fourth of July”; and the Original Score Oscar was won by Alan Menken for “The Little Mermaid.”


Directed, written by Steve Kloves
Produced by Mark Rosenberg, Paula Weinstein

Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Edited by William Steinkamp

Production companies: Gladden Entertainment, Mirage Enterprises

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: October 13, 1989 (US)

Running time: 114 minutes
Budget $11.5 million
Box office $18.4 million