Ansel Elgort stars as a young getaway driver fuelled by his iPod in a pseudo-musical that puts ‘The Fast and the Furious’ to shame.
By Orla Smith
Baby is propelled by music. We all know that feeling; when you’re walking down the street with as song in your ear, your world and your headphones so in sync that it feels as if you’re the star your own movie. As the camera twists and twirls around Ansel Elgort’s eponymous getaway driver, we witness the musical in Baby’s head bursting to life.
‘Baby Driver’ is set in the heart of Atlanta, all greenery and grey concrete, but you’d be forgiven for thinking back to last year’s breakout hit ‘La La Land’. The way Edgar Wright’s camera dances in languid long takes feels transplanted directly from one movie to the other, as do the vivid colours tinged with the light of the sun. ‘Baby Driver’ isn’t technically a musical – all the sounds we hear are present within the at least semi-logical universe of the film – but in all honesty, it’s more propelled by its soundtrack than even Damien Chazelle’s film was.
Baby can’t drive without at least one of his many iPods, filled with track listings that differ depending on his mood. The ringing in his ears – tinnitus, brought on by a childhood car accident that killed both of his parents – is drowned out by pounding music almost every second of the day. The wires of his earbuds hang from his face like some kind of extension of his skin. They’re in far more often than they’re out.
He uses his music to drive fast and with style, each glorious hit of action cut and choreographed to the beat of whichever of the film’s 35 songs are playing at the time. But Baby’s music also cuts him off from the outside world. Crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) conducts meetings with his ever-shifting band of bank robbers (alternatively Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez and more), and Baby sits at the back, sunglasses hiding his eyes, iPod blaring. He speaks only when it’s absolutely necessary.
In the hardened world of crime, his silence is an act of self-preservation, hiding the sensitive boy underneath who only wants to leave the world of violence behind. Baby started driving when he was a teenager, and Elgort rounded, youthful face makes him perfect casting – he just doesn’t belong in this world.
This is Edgar Wright’s first non-comedy, and as such it exposes some of the filmmakers flaws that were previously kept covered by a constant stream of laughs. That’s not to say that ‘Baby Driver’ isn’t funny – quite the opposite is true – but it’s chiefly propelled by the drama of its premise. Baby meets and quickly falls for a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James). The two are connected by a love of music and an impulsive hopefulness that allows them the will to want to run away with each other after only a few days. Baby and Debora may not know each other very well, but James and Elgort play their romance with such spontaneous chemistry that it’s easy to understand why they’d believe in one another so much. Yet Wright seems to struggle with his handling of female characters. Gonzalez’s Darling is questionable, and despite James’ talent conjuring a sense of reality to Debora’s character, I can’t help but feel she could have been scripted with more depth.
In fact, Wright ability to handle drama overall is revealed as one of his failings. Baby is given some nice moments, but Wright’s dramatic dialogue is far inferior to his comedic writing. This weight drags down the film’s middle section, along with the weirdly anticlimactic ending that chooses to a close off the film’s emotional arc rather than administer that one last jolt of adrenaline you were hoping for.
But it feels strange to linger on the films flaws, just because they seem to matter so little. When ‘Baby Driver’ works, it works better than almost anything you’ll see all year. It’s action scenes are religious experiences – without the music, they still might be the best of the year, but with that killer soundtrack they reach heavenly heights. Every beat has you punching the air in ecstatic joy.
Edgar Wright may have more to learn than we previously thought, but when it comes to pulling off pure cinematic exuberance, he’s the one we should all be learning from. ‘Baby Driver’ is fun, funny and charming. It’s the song of the summer, and we’ll all be playing it on repeat.
‘Baby Driver’ will be released in UK cinemas on 28th June
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