Baby: I want us to head West and never stop. You in?
Debora: I’m in, Baby.
You can have a shitty car and still make a great movie. Look at Little Miss Sunshine, as the Hoover family treks to their first child beauty pageant in a beat up, broken Volkswagen van. Or who can forget the Wagon Queen Family Truckster that the Griswolds drove to Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation. At the same time though, you could have some of the best cars in the world and produce absolute garbage. Transforming into a giant robot doesn’t transform any of the Transformers series into anything salvageable. And I might get some flak for this, but to me, The Fast and the Furious franchise is to cars what Trump Steaks was to fine meat. You see it doesn’t matter what the steering wheel is attached to. What matters is who’s behind it. And Baby Driver benefits from two incredible talents behind the wheel. The titular character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, is one of the most incredible getaway drivers in all of filmdom, and the movie’s director, Edgar Wright, has once again proven his mastery of the fine art and beauty and expression of cinema.
Story wise, this isn’t going to be one of the most unique of its genre. The puzzle pieces are going to feel very familiar. A foreboding and immeasurably powerful and all-knowing criminal mastermind. An ensemble of equal parts crazy, violent, and sociopathic criminals and thrill chasers who form his ‘teams’. A mysterious, quiet, but incredibly talented driver in the wrong world for the right reasons. And at the center of it all, a beautiful young woman with a free spirit and an open heart who wants to run away with him. The pieces are all the same but they don’t quite fit the way you probably would have expected. The movie is at times a comedy, an action flick, and a musical. Imagine what it would be like if violent, frantic, chaotic bank heists and car chases were taking place in the same world as La La Land, while the Ryan Goslings and the Emma Stones were falling in love to dance routines on the interstates. Baby as a character is fascinating, with just enough context and purpose in his life to make us feel for him. Kevin Spacey, who is hands down one of the most talented and incredibly actors I have ever seen, relishes his role. I mean you can tell he absolutely loved and enjoyed his calculating, subtly cruel, and silently explosive criminal mastermind. The movie accomplishes what it wants to accomplish in almost every scene. There are moments of great humor, thrilling action, and wrenching tension. There is just enough variety and innovation in making the pieces fit that makes an almost all-too familiar setup still feel fresh, new, exciting, and unpredictable. When people discuss Baby Driver, they’re not going to talk about the plot or the story. You can sort of construct it in your head already. He’s a great driver. He found love. And just as he thought he was finally out, they pull him back in. But, among other things, people should talk about the characters, their unique takes on the ‘action heist criminal heart of gold love story’ tropes that they each embody. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as Bonnie and Clyde. Jon Bernthal as the rebel without a cause. Jamie Foxx as the man with the chip on his shoulder who wants to get what’s his. They should talk about moments of picture perfect emotion and intensity. The chases, the standoffs, the romance, the escape.
And they definitely, absolutely, MUST, talk about the inimitable, unmistakenly distinct, and utterly flawless style of the film. A style that Edgar Wright has perfected and sharpened and has so often applied to some of the best comedies of all time. He is the mastermind behind three of my favorite movies: The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Visually, Wright takes his excellent storytelling skills in comedy and applies them seamlessly to action and thrill. Very few directors can construct shots the way Wright does and utilize his medium (film) in the unique and characteristic and advantageous ways that he does. Wright inherently understands the kinetic power of film. That is, he understands how to take advantage of movement. And not just of his actors or his sets. But of his camera and his shot and his staging. Wright uses the camera to add an extra layer to the storytelling, instead of just using it as a means to express it. The title sequence is an absolutely perfect example of this kind of talent and skill. It is riddled with subtle visual jokes that works because of his cinematography and staging. It has elements of foreshadowing, it moves and interacts with the characters, and it contributes to the story by placing visual cues and clues. A lot of movies are ‘characters reacting’ and directors placing cameras to simply ‘capture’. But then it’s really no more than just a flip book, at best a really good collection of still images that work together. Wright emphasizes dynamic, interactive, and active storytelling with the camera. And that makes the shots, and not just the stories, interesting and already worth watching.
Wright is also a master of sound design. In terms of comedy and storytelling, Wright understands the importance and value of a well timed sound effect. It’s such a perfect example of that dry British humor, but I love the scene in Shaun of the Dead where right after Shaun and Ed witness the horrific disembowelment and subsequent zombified resurrection of a girl in their garden, as they both look in sheer shock and utter disbelief, in the silence all you can hear is Ed ‘click click click’ winding up his disposable camera. See that is an example of taking advantage of your medium. A written story couldn’t capture that moment. A picture couldn’t establish the feel and timing. But a film with a good director can. And in terms of utterly perfect spot on sound design, there are few better examples than Baby Driver. This movie is perhaps the world’s first and only example of an ‘action musical’. Some of the best scenes are timed, shot, staged, and acted to and around the songs. Unlike standard movies where songs are either added post-production from whatever they could get rights to or composers create pieces after watching the scenes, Wright already picked out, and storyboarded, not only specific songs but the sequences to them too. Some of the best scenes in the movie are examples of these. In the beginning Baby is waiting in the getaway car listening to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. What starts off as your typical background music/character listening to song that happens to be in the scene turns out to be a note for note, second by second, perfectly synchronized sequence. The robbery, the chase, the escape, are all timed to the song. The movie perfectly captures every music fan’s dream of a badass playlist come to life. It films the scenes you wish you could see when you listen to the playlists of the life you wish you had. Every police siren, brake squeal, tire screen, gunshot, breath, it’s all synchronized to the music. I’ve never seen anything like it outside of either musicals or music videos but it adds such an incredible level of fun and excitement and variety and style to these scenes. It’s slick and smooth and oh so good.
If I’ve got any qualms with the movie, and I assure you it’s a tiny insignificant little oversight that I’m more than willing to bury underneath all of the praise and admiration I can possibly heap on this movie, it’s that the dialogue is at times pretty forced, pretty staged, and very awkward. Some of it is excusable, even acceptable, when you consider Baby doesn’t talk much. So why would he know how to, or at least be very good at, converse. In fact, sometimes the best thing the movie can do is shut everyone up and let the action and the songs take everyone away. But there are times that Debora is just a bit too open, too charming, too strangely ‘I’m into you and coming onto you’ for a roadside diner waitress talking to a stranger in sunglasses. Or the characters, like Jamie Foxx’s, are just too over the top, too invested in the stereotype. The best dialogue, and delivery, is Kevin Spacey hands down. His veiled threats are as smooth and deadly as a knife hidden under a silk sheet. He breaks down heist plans with such confidence and joy and speed you’d think he was narrating a horse race. His dialogue is the best constructed and it’s all delivered smooth like butter. But some of the others, it’s honestly hard at times to take them seriously. And Debora seriously, it’s like she was ready to tell her life story to the next guy who walked in that diner.
Overall, I cannot recommend Baby Driver enough. It is just another incredible title to add to the already impressive body of work that is Edgar Wright’s filmography. It is sleek, stylish, and never at the sacrifice of subject. It’s utterly unique in its execution and vision, and enjoyable from beginning to end. For me this isn’t only a must see, but a must own. Now I don’t necessarily mean you all need to go out and buy it too, but it does mean something significant for me. Of the many many movies I’ve seen this year, this is one of the few that I must absolutely own forever to watch over and over again, whenever I want great car scenes or a shining example of real filmcraft or sound. All I know is for the next couple times I’m on the road I’ll be listening to the Baby Driver soundtrack, wishing I could be half as good as Baby at anything I do and look has as cool as Baby doing it. But I bet no one ever fell in love with how cool a guy looked typing at his keyboard. Hahah.
Jerel says, ‘I’m in, Baby’.