It’s always fun as a movie fan to see a director break out with one of his films. Maybe Edgar Wright’s filmmaking career is a bit too advanced and accomplished to say he achieved a breakthrough with Baby Driver. He’s made four movies, comedies with great cult appeal (and one, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which should’ve been a far bigger success than it was) that have held up very well over the past 10-plus years.
Yet Wright hasn’t quite had the big hit that could push him near A-list director territory and make him a household name (especially among casual movie fans). Ant-Man was supposed to be that movie for him, until creative differences forced him to leave the project and be replaced by Peyton Reed.
But Wright’s touch was still very much in the movie. Fans of his work will recognize the pace, tone and humor that still remained in the script and several scenes throughout the film. (Michael Pena’s storytelling scenes felt like Wright’s style, though Reed says he came up with those.)
Ultimately, Marvel wanted a Marvel movie more than an Edgar Wright film, a conflict we’ve seen develop with other blockbuster projects and cinematic universes. Look at what happened with Lucasfilm firing Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the Star Wars Han Solo film. Wright leaving Ant-Man was a huge disappointment for his fans (and probably the cast he hired) who wanted to see his comedic (and subversive) sensibilities in a mainstream superhero movie. But if Marvel wasn’t going to let Wright do what he does best, then moving on was the right decision.
That was the best move for Wright too because he’s found his showcase in Baby Driver. It’s unlike any movie he’s ever made — though he’s shown he can spoof big-budget action and spectacle in previous films like Hot Fuzz, The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim — and demonstrates just how far he’s come as a filmmaker.
The script is funny, with plenty of witty banter among characters and comedic set pieces heavily involving music. But the car-chase action is spectacular. I haven’t seen many of the Fast and Furious films, but I’d be surprised if anything in those movies was as thrilling and engaging as the sequences Wright creates for Baby Driver. It seems impossible for anyone to watch this and not lean or turn in their seats to move along with the high-speed turns and stops the title character makes through the Atlanta streets.
But even without the bonkers car chases and getaways, Wright has created a story and set of characters that’s utterly compelling simply because of who these people are, how they came to be and how they interact with one another. Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) grew up in a life of crime, forced to fend for himself after his parents were killed in an auto accident. That same accident left Baby with a case of tinnitus which he drowns out with a constant soundtrack of music through his iPod.
(Baby Driver might a better commercial for iPods than for cars, despite the iPod kind of becoming an outdated gadget. How many of you still listen to your music through one? I do, so I enjoyed the iPod Classic and many previous models playing such a large role. That might call into question when exactly this movie takes place, though it hardly matters.)
Music is essentially the constant background for Baby’s life, giving him his one true interaction with the outside world and culture, and thus the soundtrack is extremely important to Wright’s film. Think of this as a musical with cars doing the dancing in the streets.
I imagine many people will buy the Baby Driver soundtrack after seeing the movie with tunes by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Martha and the Vandellas, Bob & Earl, The Damned, Run the Jewels, Queen, Young MC and Golden Earring — among so many others — providing the backbeat for the action on screen. It’s a spectacular collection of music, not set to popular tastes or meant to sell records. (Although plenty will surely be sold.) It’s what fits the film, a particular scene, or whatever mood Baby is in. Regardless of how much money he’s squirreled away, his music collection might be his most valuable possession.
His most prized possession, however, is the music he composes himself, taking dialogue that he records from his daily interactions (notably the meetings he has with Doc and his crew) and cutting them in with electronic tracks he creates and archives on cassette. (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Star-Lord isn’t the only guy attached to cassette tapes that remind him of his mother.) That includes the singing of Debora (Lily James) — spelled just like the T-Rex song — the waitress with whom Baby falls in love. Her dream of hitting the road, driving out west and never looking back sounds perfect to him.
Of course, Baby may be good at getting away from robberies and police pursuit, but he can’t get away from a life of crime. He’s too valuable to Doc. Baby thinks he can pull off the proverbial one last job to finally settle his debt, but that doesn’t mean his services still aren’t needed when he schemes his next robbery.
Stealing cars at such an early age and seemingly learning to drive on his own made Baby a spectacular driver with a taste for high speed, pedal-stomping, squealing tires, hard turns and weaving through traffic. Rules do not apply. It’s difficult to imagine him simply making a short drive for groceries and dealing with traffic. (Maybe he doesn’t, as he’s often shown walking most everywhere. Driving is apparently saved for work. He might not even own a car.)
That makes Baby the perfect getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss who schemes bank robberies and puts together the best crew for the job. Years ago, Baby tried to steal a care from the wrong guy and when Doc tracked him down, he employed him as a driver — not just because he was so well-suited for the job, but because Baby had to pay back what he stole. After each heist is finished, Doc takes most of Baby’s cut, leaving him a sliver of cash (which is still good money) for his troubles.
Baby’s hearing issues also make him ideal for being the wheel man for bank robbers. He can’t get distracted by other noise going on around him, staying focused on the music playing in his earbuds and providing a beat (and clock) for the robbery. Before one job, he even makes sure the thieves start over because his song started too soon. Yet he does have a line he won’t cross and is deeply disturbed if any innocents are hurt or killed during a robbery.
But a guy who’s apparently detached from the rest of the crew — including Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Griff (Jon Bernthal) — sitting back and observing with sunglasses on and earbuds in, leads to some mistrust and resentment. Is he really paying attention? Could he jeopardize the operation and get someone killed? No chance. Baby takes in everything, seemingly an expert lip-reader since he’s not able to hear so well. With his deep attention to detail, maybe he has something approaching a photographic memory too, though the movie never says so.
Elgort is fantastic in his lead role, as a tough kid who has too big a heart for the life he leads. He’s intense and angry when it’s called for, yet is also funny and sweet throughout the movie. You get why some may have a soft spot for him, while others of a harder nature might resent him. Another actor might have made Baby unlikable, especially with the music, but Elgort makes him sympathetic — even when he’s doing bad things. By the time the movie’s finished, you may not want to leave him.
And whatever Wright does next, it will definitely be worth watching. If Baby Driver is the hit it should be, plenty more people will be checking in to see what that movie is. That film will almost certainly be more interesting than whatever franchise studios want to shoehorn him in. Let Edgar be Edgar!