Like basically everyone else who heard the title Baby Driver, I went into this one not expecting very much at all. Sure, it was a movie about a getaway driver with a badass Jaime Foxx in the passenger seat, but the title was Baby Driver, how cool could it possibly be? And, just like everyone else, I completely underestimated Edgar Wright and everyone in this movie. Not only is it a fun story and a nice way to spend two hours, it is a great leap into a sensory style of film, pulling its audience into the feel of the moment, actually triggering their sight and touch, and making them part of the experience. With the music so perfectly placed and the actors so in sync with their sounds, as well as some fantastic exploding colors and a lack of CGI car chases (you heard me, Wright went on record saying no CGI or green screens were used for the car chase sequences, how badass is that?!), no audience member can avoid being completely enveloped in this story, no matter what they think of the actual dialogue and plot. Those are almost secondary details, and all we need is the experience of Baby behind the wheel.
Baby (Ansel Elgort, who is the perfect epitome of a guy named Baby with that face) is a young getaway driver out of indentured servitude to the crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). Though Doc never uses the same team twice for a job, he always has Baby behind the wheel, because after an accident in his childhood that left him with tinnitus (a constant ringing or buzzing noise in the ears), Baby constantly listens to music, and when the right track plays, he has the ability to pull of crazy and wild moves on the road to avoid law enforcement and death. The husband and wife pair Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González) are mostly amused by Baby, but some of Doc’s associates, like the violent Bats (Jaime Foxx), don’t trust Baby at all. As Baby starts to believe he is done with the world of crime, he meets waitress Debora (Lily James), he realizes that even the right song may not be enough to get him out of his current life.
You can’t even begin to talk about Baby Driver until you’ve discussed the music, because honestly none of it would have worked without the music. Every song had to be perfect, picked with the utmost precision, because we not only have to believe that it resonates enough with Baby that he can pull off the ultimate car maneuvers with it, but we also have to be drawn into the music, we have to be connected enough that we can tap our fingers along with it as the characters on screen are tapping, stepping, or shooting, as if the music is there for them too. From Baby’s first jam to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”, where he is basically any of us who have jammed out in the car and pretended they’re in a music video by timing their windshield wipers to the beat of the song, to Baby walking down the street in time to Bob and Earl’s ”The Harlem Shuffle” (synced to an ATM, a radio, a street preacher, and Baby’s response of “yeah, yeah, yeah” to the guy taking his coffee order) to the foot-chase scene timed to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus”, there is no song that is ever out of place or anything other than perfectly timed to get the characters and the audience into the action. It is intense and gets every cell in your body buzzing, and then Wright turns around and makes it funny by throwing in moments like Baby getting interrupted in the middle of the song and stopping their getaway drive to reset it, just so that his cool moves have the right soundtrack to them. It’s the kind of thing we all wish we could do every time we go out for a drive, but it takes a movie like this to really get us to feel that rhythm and beat. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must have been to film (or how they’d even go about it, like did they have the music playing every time they did a take, or did they edit it back in later and just time everything the actors did?!).
There are so many details that work besides the music, of course. Wright has an eye for color, and I would even go so far as to say that his coloring of the scenes of Baby Driver was even better than the coloring of La La Land, and that was really the only thing I was willing to give La La Land after watching it the whole way through. There’s a lot of reds and blues, and surprisingly little green considering how much of the film takes place on a road, but the entire film is bursting with color, and it really plays into the audience’s sight – the second sense to be completely triggered, after the music gets our fingers tapping. It’s also a nice change to pace to see long takes used effectively, rather than just as a means to set the stage and show the audience the layout. Not that those aren’t useful, but the long takes of Baby Driver were both fun and a way of introducing us to characters and the overall feel of the film. The very first one where Baby grabs coffee for the crew not only shows us a side of Baby as he dances down the street to his music, but also helps us understand that the synchronization of the first getaway drive wasn’t a one-off, but something that will continue throughout the entire film. Couple all of this with excellent acting and some characters you really can’t figure out, and it’s not hard to enjoy the entire movie experience.
There is maybe one downside to the film, if you want to really dig into it, and that is the lack of female action. This is almost a reinvention of Tarantino-style film, and though it is a lot easier to sit through and less awful towards its females (really just González and James), it doesn’t mean that they are not under-appreciated. Darling is just as badass as her cohorts, maybe even a little more sadistic in the partnership of herself and Buddy, and yet somehow she seems to have been regulated to the “hot one” in this clan of evildoers. She sticks up for Baby sometimes, but also doesn’t seem to have much of a say in what happens to him or anyone else. Even in their heists, she is used as the “victim” to catch everyone off guard. At the very least, she is given a good showdown as the film goes on, but it’s not nearly enough for someone as interesting as her, at least to me. Then there’s Debora, the waitress who changes Baby’s life, but while we hear all of Baby’s story given out to her, none of hers is ever given in reciprocation, making us wonder why this girl is seeking the same escape that Baby is, and why she is so willing to go along with him later. It might be too much to ask of just under two hours, but I’d love to learn more about the girls.
This movie seems to me to be the type to prove that cinema is not just about the story, but also about the art, and it proves that art doesn’t have to be weird or two miles outside of the box to be art. The sensory nature of Baby Driver makes it a very interesting kind of artistic storytelling, and a great surprise to anyone expecting something along the lines of the Fast and the Furious franchise.
5 / 5
There’s already sequel talk floating around, and I would like to beg Wright not to listen to it. Not everything needs a sequel, damn it!