I love Edgar Wright. I was first introduced to his talent in 2010 with his wonderful send up of video game culture, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Then, again in 2014 (at least when I watched it) with The World’s End that left me a little doubtful about what his next film would be like. With last year’s Baby Driver, it’s clear that Edgar Wright fully intends to move out of his creative bubble and bring that to mainstream audiences that may not be as familiar with his previous works. Baby Driver is a colorfully orchestrated musical under the guise of a heist film that doesn’t take its foot of the gas (or the beat) for one second.
Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.
Baby Driver is a musical, through and through. Characters move to the beat of whatever Baby is listening to on his iPod at the time. Thankfully, whatever Baby is listening to actually matters. The songs aren’t like Suicide Squad, where they’re just there to signal that this particular scene is supposed to be awesome. If you listen and look close enough, the song’s lyrics and how people move to it will inform your depiction of the tone of a scene. We are Baby & this is our way of ignoring a world of violence. It’s hardly noticeable if you don’t pay particular attention to it (especially if you only listen to the soundtrack, although the Blu-Ray has a “Playlist” that includes the musical moments), but when you do notice it, the songs enhance your enjoyment of the film.
Music works so well in Baby Driver because it’s something we can relate to in this world of crime. We’re never going to be pulling crazy stunts in a Subaru while evading the cops, but we can all relate to the language of music. There’s always that one track they can constantly come back to time and again, sing at the top of your lungs and lose yourself in. Baby Driver even goes so far as to show us that even if you aren’t constantly finding something new to listen to, finding that perfect mix or just listening to podcasts in our cars that we can all understand what that feels like.
Throughout the viewing of the film, I was taken aback on just how characterized the music is in Baby Driver. Music isn’t just something Baby listens and dances to – it’s something that helps him understand the world around him. Joe (CJ Jones) and Debora (Lily James) help, but Baby’s music is always there for him when he’s in a tough spot.
Most of the mainstream audiences might gawk at how much this music is used as a character in the film. To those audiences, I think it would be wise to stay away from this film if that’s not a thing you can handle. I will put the caveat that you’d be missing out on a wonderfully crafted film made by a wonderful director. Edgar Wright knows what he’s doing, as he’s assembled the best soundtrack, the best practical stunt coordinators, the best sound designers and mixers (it even has a Dolby Atmos track!). It’s the film Edgar Wright always wanted to make, but didn’t get to do until this past summer.
I think it’ll be easy for anyone to see the film influences in Baby Driver. I mean, look at the opening logo (included at the start of this review). Just starting from there, I’m sure there’s already a specific film that comes to mind and I think that works to the film’s benefit. Every director comes into a film with a specific stack (or just a few) films that really are the heart of their film. There’s a certain nuance into taking the elements of films that you’ve researched in preparation for the production of your film and putting all the best parts of them into your new film.
Although the set dressing for this film may seem very vague and unimportant (other than the fact that it’s obviously an city in the USA), there’s something about using the city of Atlanta that really struck a chord with me. It’s not Atlantic City or Southern Bay, it’s Atlanta, Georgia through and through. Atlanta’s not the first choice I would’ve picked for a film like this, but the flow of morning traffic and how the citizens react to a dancing man on the streets makes the film all the more enjoyable.
All that said, Baby Driver doesn’t really quite hit the emotional notes previous Edgar Wright film’s had. We’re supposed to care about Baby & Debora, but she never really has her own agency. Wright simply has a stacked deck of a cast here, which isn’t necessarily bad since we’re supposed to care about Baby more than the people that surround him, but it’s still frustrating.
I haven’t seen anything from Ansel Elgort (besides his musical talent, that is) and I walked away very impressed with his performance as Baby. Strangely, I connected with his disconnection from his criminal world and trying to stay cool when you could die in an instant. If this is what we can expect going forward, you might want to keep your eyes on him.
The cast surrounding Elgort is having the time of their lives in these performances. Every actor here gives you a reason to fear them while also understanding why they turned to a life of crime rather than having a normal one. These are dangerous people and serve as a direct opposite to Baby’s doe-eyed innocence. He knows their actions are wrong, but he’s also someone who is constantly distracted at the slight sight of violence.
Baby Driver is a film you’ll want to just put in your Blu-Ray player and never take out. Edgar Wright has broken from cult status to the mainstream and does so without skipping a beat.