The Rear-View Mirror: The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Love is a free agent. We may say that opposites attract, or that birds of a feather flock together or whatever; we have our kinks and fetishes and predilections and our angsts when it come to relationships and love and sex; we describe ourselves as homo- or heterosexual or polyamorous or bi or as of many colors of the rainbow, but we really don’t know why we fall for this person or that person. It’s a mistery, at its core, that crazy little thing called love.

That is why the attraction between Susie Diamond and Jack Baker could very well end in disaster. Jack, taciturn and depressed, stuck with his brother Frank, with whom he has to play the same silly songs over and over in seedy bars up and down the US west coast, falls for the outspoken Susie. And she can carry a tune. It’s harder to see what Susie sees in Jack, except that he is an excellent pianist, a true musician, and that he looks like Jeff Bridges. But since this is a movie, something strange happens: the closer they get together, and the longer their courtship continues, the clearer it is that someone, somewhere is going to get hurt. At the same time, we want them to get together. Weird, huh? If we didn’t have that cheesy compulsion for love to find a way, the art of cinema would be in even more peril than it is today. So would literature and most other forms of storytelling.

That train wreck of a fledgling relationship is counterpointed by glitzy lounges where the Baker Boys sit at their pianos night after night. For Frank, the older brother, who is married with children, it’s not just a lounge act, it’s a living, and although his life seems to be conventional, almost boring, he seems happy, even if he has to deal with his unreliable, emotionally untidy younger brother. Nobody will come up with this one if they would have to name a movie with a jaded love story. It’s more the glitz that the movie is famous for: there is Michael Ballhaus’ camera, going full circle around Michelle Pfeiffer who does her thing atop the piano. It’s mesmerizing to watch her. No wonder Jack Baker wants her.

The movie has fun with itself. Remember the array of solo singers who don’t get the job? Remember the scene when first Jack, then Susie sneak around in each other’s room? And of course there is the scene in the bathroom where Frank gets his magical head of hair. This movie is where I realised that the right ending is vital to any story. The Fabulous Baker Boys gets its ending right. Of course Susie and Jack have met again. But it’s not in this film.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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