Directed by Edgar Wright (2017)
by Sandy DeVito
It's fitting that in the opening moments of Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) mocks playing at violin during the symphonic break-down of The Bellbottoms' track by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; in many ways this is Wright's own mock symphony. More so even than any of his other films, all of which rely heavily on music to tell their stories (from the iconic Don't Stop Me Now zombie fight in Shaun of the Dead to the opening performance by Sex Bob-omb in Scott Pilgrim to Sisters of Mercy's Corrosion leading us out of the apocalypse and into the credits in The World's End), for this film, music is the story; it is the three acts and all of the bits in between. The dialogue is made into music with Baby's DJ tapes, characters speak in song lyrics, Baby never takes off his earbuds if he can help it, there's even a scene where he insists on starting a song over again before a bank heist, to the confusion of the con-men in the car with him. There's irony in his foster dad being deaf, but even that relationship, as Wright so deftly displays, has its music, albeit a kind you can't hear with the naked ear; that music is an ephemeral one, pure in timbre, floating in the air around them without noise. Love is music, maybe the purest kind of music there is, and if Baby Driver has one unifying theme, that's it, baby.
I watched the first trailer for this movie many months before seeing it, but opted out of watching the second; as I said in my review of It Comes at Night, I've become wary of contemporary trailers, which seem to be giving away entire story arcs and major plot points when they aren't mis-marketing the film altogether. Likewise here I was disappointed that I knew many of the best jokes already (the Mike Myers one in particular), which I felt would have amused me so much more if I hadn't already seen the whole joke in the first trailer. This of course is no fault of the film itself, but I can't help but wish there was less inclination to do this in the current landscape of film marketing - am I going to have to go on plot synopsis alone to devise if a film is of interest to me? The good news is, with a director like Edgar Wright, all of his films more or less exist in the same funky, hyper-stylized, sing-song universe, and if you like one, odds are you'll like the next one. Of all the directors working right now, Wright's particular style is one of the sharpest and most easily recognizable, but it's also brimming with fascinating, intricate detail - at first glance, the universe of Baby Driver is small, but I noticed so much going on onscreen sometimes that every time I looked away to rest my eyes for a moment I became hyper-aware of it, wondering what I had missed. There's so much going on beneath the surface here that I can't imagine having noticed it all after only one viewing - as with all of Wright's work, there's an intricate galaxy dancing beneath the flashy veneer of his editing and dialogue, and it's going to take more than one viewing to begin to see it. I particularly loved a shot of Baby and Debora (Lily James)' tapping shoes as they listen to T-rex's Debora together in the laundromat.
That's not to say Baby doesn't have its flaws; the characters in particular are pretty flimsy, and even Baby is given a relatively simple backstory, mostly, it seems, to insist to us that he's a Good Kid In A Bad Time. Debora in particular I felt was often not really given anything to do besides be an object of affection and show up when the story needs her to to create conflict between Baby and the Bad Guys. Likewise the entire third act I felt (this is somewhat SPOILER-Y) was given the wrong surviving antagonist - I think it would have made more sense to make Jamie Foxx's (indeed batshit) Bats the major antagonist; he channels a particularly unhinged angry energy into the character, making him the most menacing force attempting to keep Baby in a tight spot, and is one of the best performances of the film. The third act falls into a sort of conventional rhythm that the first two acts refused to follow - by association this is glaringly obvious, though I get that to drive his theme home, so to speak, Wright needed the love story to take center stage. Sadly we never really get to know anything more about Debora in the time they are finally together - at one point mid-film Baby asks her "What are you doing tomorrow?" and she answers "You tell me," which I immediately felt was some kind of metaphor for how the narrative was treating Debora in general - that she's here as Baby's sidekick, rather than emerging as a fully-fleshed woman.
As a whole, Wright's bass-soaked adrenaline-fueled hour-and-45 minutes stone-cold jam is a hyper-fun joy ride to the senses. This isn't a film about people so much as it is about emotions, and for an experience so inexorably tied to music, that seems only fitting. A movie for movie lovers, a movie for music lovers, and undoubtedly one of the most badass soundtracks of the year. On a personal note, I would love to see Wright try to tackle a female protagonist in the future. The time has come, Ed.