Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a driver. He drives. Specifically, he drives getaway cars for criminal-in-chief Doc (Kevin Spacey) and his rotating gang of ne’er-do-wells and, despite constantly pumping music into his ears, he does it pretty damn well. It’s only when Baby falls for his waitress Debora (Lily James) that he decides to take a permanent break from his chosen profession, a decision that just doesn’t gel with Doc and his crew.
Hiatus? What hiatus? I’m here to talk about Edgar Wright’s newest love letter to cinema. What are you lot talking about a hiatus for? Ahem. Anyway, on with the show.
For me there’s a very simple message to Baby Driver, being: if you thought Guardians of the Galaxy‘s soundtrack was integral to its plot, then hold on to your butts. I make the initial comparison to James Gunn’s punk revitalization of the Marvel Cinematic Universe namely because it is pretty dang hard to ignore. Both Guardians and Baby Driver are films wherein our focus lies on a character using their familial connection with music to initially mask and eventually embrace and face their own personal demons. In Guardians the soundtrack feels a lot like an audacious wig: there to accentuate what exists, is an irrefutable part of the irreverent ensemble, but is unmistakably a separate entity from the person wearing it. In Baby Driver, the soundtrack is the film’s goddamn bone marrow.
Everything and I mean everything moves to the beat of the soundtrack. Dialogue, action, edits, transitions, all of it is indebted to Wright’s musical choice, not to mention his heavily kinetic and visually engaging style of film-making. While there have been plenty of wonderfully choreographed musical moments from Wright’s body of work (such as beating a zombie landlord to the sound of Queen from Shaun of the Dead or any of the numbers from Scott Pilgrim), this is the logical conclusion of those ideas. If you aren’t grinning during the scene where Baby buys some coffee to the sound of Harlem Shuffle then you’ve got to ask yourself, what did that old gypsy woman do to my soul?
If it feels like I’m banging on about the way the soundtrack affects the film a bit too much, then tough, because it is an incredible selection of tunes that writes and channels the film more than the performances do. Does this mean I’m about to unload a small shipping container of criticism on the film’s performances? Don’t get ahead of me and maybe I’ll tell you.
Okay, I’ll tell you. Unsurprisingly for an Edgar Wright film, everybody is on point. Spacey goes for a subtle, mediated, boss-like criminality and knocks it out the park. Jamie Foxx goes for unhinged gangsta and knocks that out the park. Lily James, despite having some of the least to work with, is the exact level of charming an archetypal dream girl needs in this kind of film. Jon Hamm once again makes acting look too easy as Buddy, the dark reflection of Baby’s potential future. As for Ansel Elgort’s Baby? I’m giving him his own paragraph.
I cannot for the life of me get my head around the fact that the preposterously-named Ansel Elgort’s claim to fame other than Baby Driver was his roles in The Fault in our Stars and the Divergent series. Dopey book adaptations should not have held such a stranglehold on the lad, as in Baby Driver he constantly looks like he’s walked out of a swimming pool full of charisma. Through a combination of genuine, warm, fun interactions with his foster father Joseph (award-winning deaf actor CJ Jones) to his relationship with Lily James’ Debora, to even his professional-yet-playful demeanour when he’s on the job, there is denying a like for the guy. There’s even this suggestion that Baby might actually have more issues going on under the hood than is overtly said, but like I say, Elgort’s got chops.
Now usually in reviews, there has to be some semblance of critical analysis. Personally, I spend the last little bit of our reviews here dragging the things I didn’t like about films to light and prodding them in the wrong parts with a stick. As far as Baby Driver is concerned, the only thing going against it is how formulaic the overall story and premise are. That being said as has been pointed out to me by Bostonian internet critics, Edgar Wright does this all the time. He takes genre films and puts his spin on them, looks at them through his stylistic kaleidoscope, and that’s precisely why we love the guy. It’s not the greatest love story ever told and the action scenes aren’t a revolution, but what it is is a film made from a place of love for the medium set to the best soundtrack you will hear this year. Guardians Vol. 2 can suck it.
In case you skimmed the bulk of this review the short version is: go see it. The longer version is if you love cinema and a cracking soundtrack: go see it. The even longer version is if you’re the kind of person that still hasn’t made their mind up over an initial short version and a supplementary longer summary and are holding on to the vain hope that somehow the final, impossibly-stretched attempt at convincing you will be the one to make you go and see the film that I’ve been talking about for the past 900+ words: yeah, you should go see it too. Treat yourself. It’s good to be back.