As I was leaving the theater Sunday morning (AMC $6 special holmes!) after watching this movie, I turned to my fellow Naysh contributor and said “I have the biggest case of movie blue balls right now.” Maybe a little crude, but that’s the best way to describe my post-Baby Driver emotions. You see, I like Edgar Wright’s movies, and when I heard that this was a passion project of his – one that he’s been trying to make for 20+ years – I was understandably excited. I figured this would be a comedy version of Drive, one of my favorite movies. And in terms of plot, they really aren’t that far apart. Both movies share getaway driver protagonists without the gift of gab, involve a romance between said male lead and a waitress, and both use their soundtracks to add to the atmosphere of the film. But unfortunately, the similarities end there.
The protagonist is Baby (Ansel Elgort), a talented driver with tinnitus, a condition which leaves a perpetual ringing in his ears that he drowns out by playing music on his collection of iPods. While a relatively innocent person, we learn that he works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) in order to pay back debts incurred from his childhood transgressions. He’s trying to get out of the criminal life, and is nearing the end of his payment plan. Just before his final job, he becomes enraptured with a waitress at a local diner named Debora (Lily James), whom he sees skipping around the streets listening to music (you can probably tell where this is going). Baby and Debora quickly fall for one another, connected by their dissatisfaction with their present lives and wanting to start fresh. But conflict emerges when Doc coerces Baby into another job, casting Baby and Debora’s future in doubt.
While the plot is cliché, that doesn’t always mean it’s bad. Something is cliché for a reason. However, the movie seems to stumble trying to fit the pieces together. There’s a noticeable lull around 1/3 through the movie, after Baby and Debora connect, where I found myself wondering what the purpose of these scenes even was. All other conflicts had been resolved, and we’re basically just watching two 20 something’s hang out. It felt aimless, drifting until the conflict could arise again. This revealed one of the movies major flaws. In that moment, Baby Driver is relying on Baby and Debora’s budding romance piquing our interest. But their connection never feels very real or genuine. The leads have decent enough chemistry, but the movie never lets it ferment, give it room to breath and occur more naturally. Plus, I believe all this is supposed to happen in the span of 3 days, max. That’s the biggest suspension of belief in the whole thing, and in this movie that’s saying something. But instead, the movie opts to rushing towards more action or another choreographed music sequence. And because I never felt invested in them as characters, the scenes built around them fail to interest, and whatever occurs with them later carries very little weight.
What sounded like the main selling points for Baby Driver was the soundtrack and the action. I had heard beforehand that the action synced up to the music being played (happens in Drive too btw, albeit only once I believe), and on these two points the movie does deliver. Initially, the music syncing seems like a fun added layer of detail. Something to keep scenes pulsing with energy. However, instead of existing in the background, where the good lord intended music to be, whole scenes rely on the gimmick exclusively, and this quickly drains the effect. There are moments in the movie that exist solely to show the protagonist dancing around. Unless you absolutely adore the music, or love watching a filled in version of old iPod commercials, these scenes feel unnecessarily long. All they really tell us is that he loves music. Two and a half minutes seems like too long for that.
The biggest disappointment for me was the characters. They all felt like one note songs, interesting only in the moment you first encounter them, but then becoming tired. All the criminals are knockoff Jules and Vincent, fast talking while only spitting out one liners. When Flea is in the top half of you actor playing criminal power rankings, there’s a serious problem. I think there are 5 lines of dialogue total from female characters, and most of that is Debora droning on about peoples names in famous songs. There’s a spoiled section after this that illuminates my feelings better, if you’re inclined.
I hate that this turned into me bitching for 4 paragraphs. This was a movie I really wanted to like. I can’t imagine how difficult and time consuming the soundtrack/visual sync must’ve been, and I admire Edgar Wright for trying something different. I have no doubts about how hard it is to make an even okay movie. Baby Driver is definitely well made, the visuals always pleasing, the action scenes intense. But the character’s motivations always felt too fleeting (especially in the second half), and their interactions too synthetic. I found this movie both impressive and yet superficial, never really finding anything I could latch onto and connect with. So while this may have sounded scathing, that’s probably just the disappointment talking. If this is on TV (and I’m really bored), I won’t turn it off. So it can’t be that bad.
One last thing: I found Baby’s choice in cars offensive. I hope you did too.
You will like if: You like well-orchestrated action scenes, with larger than life characters. Also if you’ve ever watched a music video and thought “I wish this was 2 hours long.” In the mood for some light-hearted action.
You won’t like if: You’re looking for some deep, character driven stories. Or if you are in the mood for a thrilling, engrossing film.
SPOILER-LACED RANT ALERT!
Honestly there isn’t much to spoil in this movie, but I value seeing a movie with as clean a slate as possible. This review blows that up, but the next best thing would be a major plot points spoiler free entrance to the theater. You’ve been warned.
Baby ends up serving a light 5 year sentence to pay for his crimes after being caught. The term is light because of how nice he was, which felt as cliché watching as it just felt writing. But in order to have a satisfying ending, his waitress must wait the 5 years for him. Which would seem like a stretch if they’d been together for 5 years prior, let alone the maximum of 3 days they’ve known each other. This is just further proof of how much a backseat the characters take to the action of this movie. They aren’t motivated by real human interests, but more just act in whatever way goes along with the plot. And in these PC times, nothing feels more antiquated than the hot country peach waitress thinking “This criminal with malfunctioning ears seems like a great horse to hitch my wagon to. Better forego 5 years of my prime for him. I mean I went to the Laundromat with him, what more do you need?” My test for whether a female character is a decent character is if I’d want my hypothetical daughter to emulate said character in some facet. This would be a hard no, and the only other female character in the movie spends half her time sucking face with Jon Hamm. Can’t blame her, but that’s still 0 for 2 at the plate for Wright.