Directed by: Edgar Wright
Premise: A young man (Ansel Elgort) with a passion for music and an aptitude for driving is coerced into working as the getaway driver for a series of robberies. He meets a young woman (Lily James) and tries to find a way out of the criminal life.
What Works: Baby Driver was written and directed by Edgar Wright, the filmmaker behind movies such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright is a filmmaker with a distinct cinematic voice but what’s curious about Baby Driver is that it tones down some of Wright’s loudest eccentricities while retaining his distinct style and sense of fun. In that respect, this a slightly more mature project for Wright, one that demonstrates his mastery of cinema but is less hampered by a need to show it off. One of the most important qualities of Edgar Wright’s filmmaking is his use of music. His movies have a rich soundtrack that is weaved into the filmmaking. The premise of Baby Driver lends itself to Edgar Wright’s skill of matching sound and the moving image. The young driver of the movie suffers from tinnitus due to a childhood automobile accident and he listens to music as a way of drowning out the constant hum in his head. That allows the movie to include a wide selection of songs from such diverse artists as The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and T. Rex. The soundtrack coordinates with the action and the editing, so much so that it is appropriate to think about Baby Driver as a musical. None of the music is “live” and no one is singing but Baby Driver is a musical insofar as the story and the action and the filmmaking itself are shaped by and communicated through the musical selections. This is an extraordinary combination of music with moving imagery that is worthy of comparison to films like Fantasia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and “Scorpio Rising.” In addition to using music as brilliantly as it does, Baby Driver also showcases some of the best automotive action of recent years with some chases that rival anything in the Fast and the Furious movies. The excellence of the chases is inextricably connected with the musical qualities of the film. The car action is choreographed like dance numbers and they are fun in the same way. However, Baby Driver isn’t wall to wall music and car chases. There is a distinctly human story at the center of this film in which a young man must make difficult choices and navigate violent and treacherous personalities in order to survive.
What Doesn’t: The story of Baby Driver works through the boilerplate of a heist movie. Our hero reluctantly accepts the job with the hope of a clean life just over the horizon where he will live happily ever after with a good woman. This is essentially the same premise seen in everything from Ocean’s 11 to The Thomas Crown Affair to The Bank Job. Baby Driver doesn’t stray far from the formula and many of the turns in the plot are predictable. However, this is an excellent example of a filmmaker bringing style and energy to a familiar genre and making something fresh and exciting out of it. The weakest element of Baby Driver is its love story. It’s not bad but there’s not much to it and Baby Driver drags a bit as it shifts into romantic gear. Ansel Elgort and Lily James are very photogenic and they have a likable chemistry but there isn’t much to either of them. James character in particular is more of an idea than a person and the only rationale the movie offers for their love is the actors’ mutual adorableness. The ending of Baby Driver is also a bit clunky. The story attempts to subvert the getaway appeals of the heist genre but the finale is the one point in the picture in which Edgar Wright doesn’t seem fully in control of the filmmaking and the movie sputters out instead of coming to a smooth stop.
Bottom Line: Baby Driver is an exceptional film that dabbles in multiple genres, pulls them together, and frequently outshines recent examples of musicals and car pictures. The movie is popcorn but it’s popcorn prepared by a master chef.
Episode: #655 (July 9, 2017)