Forget last year’s bland La La Land. Baby Driver is the modern musical brought to life.
*spoilers – major plot points for Baby Driver are discussed…you’ve been warned*
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a thrilling heist movie, beating along with its soundtrack, dancing, like Baby’s version of Fred Astaire, and crushingly cool. Baby Driver has Quentin Tarantino’s style and James Gunn’s ear for tunes and fun. Luckily, we don’t see QT’s fetishism, and the script and action are tighter than Gunn’s work.
Wright’s last film was The World’s End, but he worked on Marvel’s Ant-Man as writer and director before he parted ways with the company over “creative differences” and all that might imply. Ant-Man ended up being a pile of “meh” with an inconsistent narrative and a half-hearted attempt at a heist movie. Baby Driver, however, glides forward easily, surpassing Wright’s comedic trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and World’s End), and growing up past the musical Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Baby’s (Ansel Elgort) life is defined by his music. Though he stoically scowls behind sunglasses through his planning meetings with Doc (Kevin Spacey at his scene-chewing best), as soon as he is away from the gang and their insults, he’s dancing. In the car, he beats the steering wheel, activates the wipers, and air-violins along with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms.” At home with his deaf and handicapped foster-father, Joseph (CJ Jones), he dances and sings along with his music. Dance and communicating without saying a word are his super powers, and he goes nowhere without his earbuds. And when Baby works, driving for Doc as the wheel man for whatever gang pulled together for the job, the car dances for him. Wright expertly picks music that neatly punctuates the action, even weaving in the percussive sounds of a gun fight into the beat. Baby is so intertwined with his music he has to make the crew wait while he rewinds a song to get himself back on track.
Baby holds himself apart from the rest of the crews he drives for, which irritates the jumpier members of the group. They question his ability and his mental capacity to do the job, as he camouflages his disdain for them with his own personal soundtrack. Music is a way for him to drown out the tinnitus he suffers from that was caused by a car accident when he was a child, an accident that also took his parents from him. But music is also Baby’s connection to his mother, who sang to him, and he treasures his memories of her. Baby is set up for the audience to empathize with, he’s a good boy who got caught up in the wrong business. He’s sweet, polite, and abhors the violence of his coworkers. Elgort’s baby face helps sell his goodness to the audience, even as he hides from the violence of his life behind dark shades.
Don’t go looking too hard for a plot though. This is firmly of the “one last job” sub-genre of heist movies. Baby’s almost out, but he keeps getting pulled back in. Mostly because Doc has a soft spot for him, not to mention he’s the best driver out there. Baby thinks he’s done, and that finally he can run off into the sunset with his newfound girlfriend. But Doc won’t let that happen too easily. Mayhem naturally ensues.
Jon Hamm plays the delightfully unhinged Buddy, and he’s a lot more frightening in this movie than I can ever remember him being. Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal play pretty much the same character, the paranoid, angry, rude, impetuous firestarter. You just know he’s going to be a problem. And the ladies? They’re just window dressing at best. Lily James does her best as the doe-eyed innocent Deborah, who shares Baby’s love of music. And Eliza Gonzales does a fair Bonnie to Jon Hamm’s Clyde as Darling. But neither have much work to do as two fairly standard characters. Wright continues to disappoint with his depictions of women, they’re angels or hellions, and always defined by their relationships with men.
Nonetheless, Baby is a fully-formed character. He’s lonely, and vulnerable, but also seeking a greater fate away from the bad choices he’s made. He protects his loved ones, and recoils from the violence his crew seems to dole out without hesitation.
The movie never has a dull moment, and it legitimately contains some of the greatest chase scenes you will ever see. Even the chase on foot has some stunning moves. Baby Driver should go down as a great original action movie, a fun heist flick, and the perfect original summer getaway. Dance along with Baby, you won’t be sorry.