Let’s establish this up front: There is only one actual baby in Baby Driver. And while that baby is within a car seat inside a vehicle, the infant never drives a car.
Filmmaker Edgar Wright’s aesthetic is one of quick-and-punchy edits, swirling twirling camera movements, and gratuitous violence with a sense of genre and comedic flair. The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) poked fun at the tropes of various genres (zombies, cop movies, dystopian sci-fi, respectively) even as it offered fresh new additions within those particular schools of film. Wright is both making fun of and celebrating these cinematic conventions; he treats the history of film genres like a group of buddies he loves even as he’s ribbing them. Baby Driver fits within this vein as Wright’s examination of car chase and one-last-heist films (Think The Getaway, The Italian Job, even the Fast & Furious franchise; The Getaway‘s screenwriter Walter Hill offers the voiceover in a courtroom scene in Baby Driver). As an exploration of genre, there are incredibly fresh moments within Baby Driver, particularly in the opening 20 minutes. As the audience is thrust into this world of brazen bank robberies and bold getaways, there’s a soothing effect as the camera settles on Baby, dancing away and singing along to the tune on his iPod. He drums his hands on the steering wheel and the side of the car, just as anyone would listening to a great song. Even in the midst of the intense action, we’re settling in for this to be fun. And it is, mostly, at least for the first thrilling car chase through Atlanta, immediately followed by Baby’s La La Land-esque trip to pick up coffee for the robbers, the lyrics of the song appearing in graffiti on the city’s walls as Baby happily strolls through Atlanta’s streets. Ansel Elgort gives a remarkably physical performance as he dances and saunters through the film, cool and collected and (almost) in control.
Had the film sustained this fantastic light-hearted tone as an action-musical mashup, I would have been delighted for the entire duration of the film. Yet as the story progresses, narrative cliches, problematic character choices, and the steady increase of wanton violence steal the fresh and fun from the film. While the opening is filled with surprises, the narrative trades these unexpected gems for familiarity–the expected begins to outweigh the unexpected, and there is nothing like the opening chase or the musical intro for the remainder of the film. A variety of quirky and dangerous villains surround Baby, aptly portrayed by an excellent cast (Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzales, and Jon Hamm, the latter of which should be a lead in more films). Yet Baby Driver ultimately chooses the least interesting crook as the final baddie, and the climactic confrontation is frustratingly located within a parking garage, stifling the film’s strengths (i.e. fast driving and bright colors).
A lot of innocent people and police are killed in Baby Driver, another stark contrast to the lightheartedness of the opening sequence. Moral weight and human life are afterthoughts, and the violence is too gruesome and unsettling to simply be overlooked as “all fun and games.” Heist movies attempt to foster empathy within the audience for the criminals; we celebrate and connect with the hero, even when she/he is doing something ethically wrong. Baby is portrayed as reluctant to be a part of this world, a young man with a “good heart” caught up in the circumstances, driven by love for a beautiful waitress, Deborah (Lily James), so we can look past the criminal activities (and besides–stealing cars and driving fast is cool!). In contrast, cop movies (like Wright’s Hot Fuzz) celebrate the police officers by telling their stories and connecting the audience with their characters–we hope the bad guys are caught and justice is done. By the end of Baby Driver, I was internally cheering for the police officers in the hopes that they’d catch these folks, yet this was a heist movie. Baby is the good guy, but I’m not sure Baby is a “good guy.”
Perhaps I’m overthinking it all. Baby Driver isn’t a film with a lot of spiritual or ethical interests. It’s a shallow escapist fantasy and a send-up/celebration of a particular genre. It’s a summer popcorn action flick with a killer soundtrack and fantastic car chases. In short, it’s a lot of fun and pretty cool…except when it isn’t.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3890160/