The Fabulous Baker Boys

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The Fabulous Baker Boys
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin.
Directed by Steve Kloves
Produced by Mark Rosenberg
Paula Weinstein
Written bySteve Kloves
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by William Steinkamp
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 13, 1989 (1989-10-13)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget $11.5 million
Box office$18.4 million

The Fabulous Baker Boys is a 1989 American romantic musical comedy-drama film written and directed by Steve Kloves and starring Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer and Beau Bridges. It follows Jack and Frank Baker, two brothers struggling to make a living as lounge jazz pianists in Seattle. Desperate, they take on a female singer, Susie Diamond, who revitalizes their careers, causing the brothers to re-examine their relationship with each other and with their music.

Romance film film genre

Romance films or romance movies are romantic love stories recorded in visual media for broadcast in theaters and on TV that focus on passion, emotion, and the affectionate romantic involvement of the main characters and the journey that their genuinely strong, true and pure romantic love takes them through dating, courtship or marriage. Romance films make the romantic love story or the search for strong and pure love and romance the main plot focus. Occasionally, romance lovers face obstacles such as finances, physical illness, various forms of discrimination, psychological restraints or family that threaten to break their union of love. As in all quite strong, deep, and close romantic relationships, tensions of day-to-day life, temptations, and differences in compatibility enter into the plots of romantic films.

Musical film film genre

Musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing.

Stephen Keith Kloves is an American screenwriter, film director and producer. He wrote and directed the 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys and is mainly known for his adaptations of novels, especially for all but one of the Harry Potter films and for Wonder Boys.


The Fabulous Baker Boys was theatrically released on October 13, 1989 by 20th Century Fox. It received critical acclaim with major praise drawn towards Pfeiffer's performance but was a box office disappointment grossing $18.4 million on a $11.5 million budget.

20th Century Fox American film studio

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation is an American film studio that is a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The studio is located on its namesake studio lot in the Century City area of Los Angeles.

At the 62nd Academy Awards, the film received four nominations: Best Actress (for Pfeiffer), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score. [1]

62nd Academy Awards

The 62nd Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best films of 1989 and took place on March 26, 1990, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles beginning at 6:00 p.m. PST / 9:00 p.m. EST. During the ceremony, AMPAS presented Academy Awards in 23 categories. The ceremony, televised in the United States by ABC, was produced by Gil Cates and directed by Jeff Margolis. Actor Billy Crystal hosted the show for the first time. Three weeks earlier in a ceremony held at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California on March 3, the Academy Awards for Technical Achievement were presented by hosts Richard Dysart and Diane Ladd.

Academy Award for Best Actress award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Award for Best Actress is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance in a leading role while working within the film industry. The award was traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Actor winner.

The Academy Award for Best Cinematography is an Academy Award awarded each year to a cinematographer for work on one particular motion picture.


The Fabulous Baker Boys, Jack (Jeff Bridges) and Frank (Beau Bridges), are brothers living in Seattle, making a living in lounges and music bars, their gimmick being that they play intricate jazz and pop-flavored duets on matching grand pianos. Frank handles the business aspect while Jack, single, attractive, and more talented as a player, feels disillusioned and bored with the often hackneyed material they use. Nonetheless, he is able to live a comfortable and responsibility-free existence because of Frank's management, sleeping where and with whom he pleases. Frank has a wife and family he adores, but Jack has no personal connections in his private life, other than Eddie, his soulful but aging Black Labrador, and Nina, the lonely child of a single mom living in his building, who walks Eddie and takes piano lessons from Jack. In all other respects, professionally and personally, Jack's life is a series of empty one-night stands. Now and again, he plays the challenging music he really cares about at a local jazz club.

Jeff Bridges American actor

Jeffrey Leon Bridges is an American actor, singer, and producer. He comes from a prominent acting family and appeared on the television series Sea Hunt (1958–60), with his father, Lloyd Bridges and brother, Beau Bridges. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Otis "Bad" Blake in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, and earned Academy Award nominations for his roles in The Last Picture Show (1971), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Starman (1984), The Contender (2000), True Grit (2010), and Hell or High Water (2016). His other films include Tron (1982), Jagged Edge (1985), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Fearless (1993), The Big Lebowski (1998), Seabiscuit (2003), Iron Man (2008), Tron: Legacy (2010), and The Giver (2014).

Beau Bridges actor and director from the United States

Lloyd Vernet "Beau" Bridges III is an American actor and director. He is a three-time Emmy, two-time Golden Globe and one-time Grammy Award winner, as well as a two-time Screen Actors Guild Award nominee. Bridges was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 7, 2003, at 7065 Hollywood Boulevard for his contributions to the television industry. He is the son of actor Lloyd Bridges and elder brother of fellow actor Jeff Bridges.

Seattle City in Washington, United States

Seattle is a seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. With an estimated 730,000 residents as of 2018, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America. According to U.S. Census data released in 2018, the Seattle metropolitan area’s population stands at 3.87 million, and ranks as the 15th largest in the United States. In July 2013, it was the fastest-growing major city in the United States and remained in the Top 5 in May 2015 with an annual growth rate of 2.1%. In July 2016, Seattle was again the fastest-growing major U.S. city, with a 3.1% annual growth rate. Seattle is the northernmost large city in the United States.

Concerned over the way they keep losing gigs, the Baker Boys hold auditions for a female singer to join the outfit, ending up with the beautiful but eccentric Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former escort with unusual charisma, a sultry singing voice, and emotional baggage she keeps well hidden most of the time. She's late for the audition, cockily irreverent of their professional reputation, and ticks Frank off by saying she's got an intuition he'll hire her anyway—but overcomes his reservations with her impassioned performance of "More Than You Know", with Jack accompanying her, clearly more impressed with Susie's singing (and Susie herself) than he wants to admit. After a rocky start, the new act becomes unexpectedly successful, leading to bigger gigs and better money, but Frank is worried that Jack will ruin it by sleeping with Susie, having noted the growing attraction between the two, and being well aware of his brother's effect on the opposite sex.

Michelle Pfeiffer American actress

Michelle Marie Pfeiffer is an American actress and producer. One of the most popular actresses of the 1980s and 1990s, she has received international acclaim and many accolades for her work in both comedic and dramatic films. Noted for her versatility as a character actress, Pfeiffer has become particularly known for portraying nuanced and unglamorous, emotionally distant women as well as strong female characters with intense sex appeal. Pfeiffer is widely considered to be among the most talented actresses of her generation.

Emotional baggage is an everyday expression that correlates with many varied but similar concepts within social sciences, self-help movements, and other fields: its general concern is with unresolved issues of an emotional nature, often with an implication that the emotional baggage is detrimental.

Jack and Susie circle each other warily from gig to gig, neither wanting to make the first move. In the meantime, the normally cool and emotionally distant Jack has a stark revelation of how fragile his world really is when Eddie has to spend the night at an animal hospital. He needs to have several teeth removed, a procedure that could easily kill the elderly dog, who is, Jack suddenly realizes, his only real friend in the world.

The now sought-after trio (and Eddie, still recovering from surgery) head out of town to play an extended engagement at a grand old-style hotel. Frank has to leave suddenly, when one of his kids has a minor accident. Without him to act as chaperone, Susie and Jack give in to their feelings after playing a sizzling duet of "Makin' Whoopee" at the hotel's New Year's Eve celebration. Susie opens up to Jack about her past at the escort service, sleeping with clients simply because they were nice to her. She tries to tell him how good a player he is, but he's unwilling to admit his regrets to her. The romance is uneasy and off-kilter from the start, and doesn't last long.

"Makin' Whoopee" is a jazz/blues song, first popularized by Eddie Cantor in the 1928 musical Whoopee!. Gus Kahn wrote the lyrics and Walter Donaldson composed the music for the song as well as for the entire musical.

Back in Seattle, there is new tension within the act, as Frank senses what has happened between Jack and Susie. Both rebel against Frank's creative control, which has them performing crowd-pleasers like "Feelings" every night, instead of the jazz standards they prefer. After she spends the night with Jack at his apartment (leading to an embarrassing encounter with Nina), Susie reveals that at the hotel she got a lucrative offer from a man in the catfood business, to sing jingles for television, which would mean leaving The Baker Boys. She later takes the job when Jack, wounded she would even consider going (and thinking about the conventioneers she used to know as an escort), refuses to admit how he feels, and acts like her departure is of no concern. As a parting shot, she tells him he's selling himself on the cheap as much as she ever did, by working a cheesy lounge act instead of developing his talent.

Jack and Frank quarrel over Susie's departure and the increasingly embarrassing gigs Frank has been landing them. They get into a fight, with Jack nearly breaking Frank's fingers in frustrated rage, then storming off saying he can't pretend anymore. Jack later blows up at Nina, driving her away—but goes after her to apologize—and learns that she's getting a new stepdad, so he won't be such a big part of her life anymore.

Now ready to pursue the solo career his loyalty to Frank and delayed maturity had kept on the back burner, Jack goes to Frank's house to mend fences. Frank accepts Jack's decision to go his own way, and says he will switch to giving piano lessons at home—in his mind, he was simply helping his brother lead the carefree swinging single life that he secretly envied, and had thought Jack wanted. They reminisce happily about the early days of their act, and play a riotous chorus of "You're Sixteen", knowing now their connection is unbreakable, no matter what happens.

Jack goes to see Susie, who is not enjoying the jingle business much, to let her know he's sorry about the way he behaved. She isn't ready to give him another chance, but they part as friends, Jack telling her he's got an intuition they will see each other again (echoing her earlier prediction that the brothers would hire her for the act). She walks off to her job, with him watching until she's nearly out of sight. As the credits roll, the soundtrack plays Michelle Pfeiffer and Dave Grusin's interpretation of "My Funny Valentine".



Steve Kloves wrote The Fabulous Baker Boys after his first script, Racing with the Moon (1984), 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 20th 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. [2] 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." Despite having already sung on screen in her cinematic début, Grease 2 (1982), Pfeiffer 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. Although set in Seattle, The Fabulous Baker Boys was filmed primarily on location in Los Angeles, California. [3]


Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Susie Diamond received universal critical acclaim and earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Michelle Pfeiffer 1990.jpg
Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Susie Diamond received universal critical acclaim and earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The Fabulous Baker Boys currently holds a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews, [4] and holds a 6.7 rating on the Internet Movie Database. The film was released on October 13, 1989, in 858 theaters, grossing US$3.3 million in its opening weekend, before going on to make $18.4 million, above its $11.5 million budget. [5]

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." [6] 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." [7] 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." [8] 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." [9]

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." [6] 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." [10]

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." [6] 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." [9] 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." [11] 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." [7]

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." [6] 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." [7]

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

Michelle Pfeiffer's memorable rendition of "Makin' Whoopee", sprawled over a piano in a red evening dress, has been referenced and parodied numerous times, entering popular culture as an iconic image. Homages to this scene have appeared in the film Hot Shots! (starring the Bridges' father Lloyd Bridges) and episodes of Eureka , Ellen and Animaniacs .[ citation needed ]

Awards and nominations

The Fabulous Baker Boys was nominated for four Academy Awards. [1]

Michelle Pfeiffer won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, fending off competition from Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Andie MacDowell and Liv Ullmann. She also won numerous 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). [1]

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. [1]

Steve Kloves was presented with the Sutherland Trophy by the British Film Institute, and was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award. [1]

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. [1]

Beau Bridges won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor. [1]

William Steinkamp was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. [1]

Awarding BodyAwardNomineeResult
Academy Awards Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer nomination
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus nomination
Best Film Editing William Steinkamp nomination
Best 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

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

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Susie Diamond is a fictional character who appears in the romantic comedy-drama film The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Portrayed by actress Michelle Pfeiffer, Susie is a former escort who becomes a professional lounge singer when she is hired to help revitalize the career of The Fabulous Baker Boys, a waning piano duo consisting of brothers Jack and Frank Baker. Susie's addition to the group benefits both the trio's career and her own, but she also inadvertently generates conflict between the two brothers as Frank strongly disapproves of Jack's romantic interest in Susie, ultimately jeopardizing both the brothers' relationship with each other and the trio's future as a musical act.


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