Daily Archives: May 20, 2019

Baby Driver (2017)

*. This is thin. Very thin. Think your basic heist movie and all of its usual elements: the gang, the caper, the hero who just needs to pull off one last score before he’s out of the game and can retire to a quiet life with his woman . . . and then the way things fall apart in a bloody round of violence demonstrating there is little, if any, honour among thieves. Indeed, the fairy tale ending may be the most “original” thing about Baby Driver.
*. Let’s face it, we’ve been here many times before, even with drivers. As with The Driver. Or Drive. Those movies were thin too. Baby Driver may be even thinner.
*. The reason it’s so thin is because writer-director Edgar Wright wanted to do as much of the film as possible to music, which means giving the story all the depth of a pop song about bank robbers. Maybe “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band, with Baby and Deborah as Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue.
*. I was quite surprised by the reviews of Baby Driver when it came out. They were very good, but as I read what they had to say about the film I found myself puzzled by what it was people were so impressed by. After seeing the movie for myself my confusion grew. Baby Driver is not a bad movie, but I don’t see any way in which it’s more than a brainless bit of summer fluff.
*. Two things in particular seem to have really impressed critics.
*. First there were all the car chases and stunts. As you would hope in a movie about a getaway driver, featuring several extended car chases, these are good. But they are not great. Only one stunt in particular caught my eye. The clouds of burning rubber were the only signature element. There was nothing in the way the rest of this material was filmed that struck me as being a gamechanger or setting a new standard for such things (think The French Connection or what George Miller did with the Mad Max movies). Put another way, around the same time as I saw Baby Driver I saw The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which also had some good chase scenes that were done just as well.
*. The second thing that got a lot of praise was the music. Again, for a movie built around its soundtrack you’d hope the music would be good, and it is. But, also again, there was nothing in the music itself or the way it was used that blew me away or struck me as particularly original. It’s the usual eclectic retro-mix we’ve been listening to for thirty years now in films like this.
*. On the commentary track Wright talks about how his idea for the movie was to use all the music diegetically. This is a technical term meaning that the music you hear is “in” the movie itself: people in the movie are listening to it or dancing to it or playing it or whatever. There are two things to say about this.
*. (1) it’s nothing new, as there have been plenty of movies that haven’t had scores but only used music as it comes up in the movie. Admittedly, Baby Driver does this more than most, but even here the film doesn’t solely use music diegetically. There is a score (by Steven Price).
*. (2) Is it really a diegetic use of music? I mean, sure the music is part of the film but only in the sense that we’re put in the somewhat non-diegetic position of wearing Baby’s earbuds and hearing what he’s hearing. That just strikes me as a way of shoehorning in some cool tunes that could just have easily played as part of a soundtrack. Meanwhile, I get that Baby performs better to music, lots of people do. Even surgeons operate to a playlist. But the music here still feels more like the director’s playlist than an integral part of this world.

*. Wright says he’d had the idea for the movie for 20 years, and took 10 years to write it. How is this possible? I can imagine this would be a difficult movie to make in the sense of the nuts and bolts of its choreography and construction, but it isn’t a complicated film at all, and certainly doesn’t seem to have required much writing.
*. I must be missing something here too. Apparently Wright actually did research, interviewing half a dozen ex-cons and getaway drivers to make the film more realistic. But why? There’s nothing at all here he couldn’t have just taken from other gangster films and the overall tone of the movie seems to be not only un- but anti-realistic. This is a day-glo fantasy of the criminal life and I didn’t believe in a bit of it. That’s not a knock against Baby Driver but just a comment on the kind of movie it is.
*. Why does Baby have to leave a tape recording with Joe at the retirement home he leaves him at? Joe can’t write?
*. What the hell is the relation between Joe and Baby anyway? Did I miss something? Is Joe his foster father? A single, disabled, deaf man? How did that work?
*. These may seem like niggling questions, but given how little script there is to this movie (in terms of both plot and dialogue) it’s surprising how little of it holds up. Characters just climb out of the grave to take us through to the next scene, for example. Or, to stick with the script, notice how awkwardly the gang’s trip to the diner is introduced. Obviously they had to have a scene like this to set up what happens later and so it gets jammed in.
*. When Buddy is hunting for Baby in the parking garage and he calls out “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Do you think Wright’s assumption was that this means “Where are you, Romeo?” Or that this is what Buddy thinks the line means? Juliet is not asking where Romeo is, but why (wherefore) he has to be named Romeo (that is, a Montague).

*. Ansel Elgort and Lily James are both very pretty and (I guess) likeable, but it’s hard to imagine two duller protagonists than Baby and Debora. They’re young and they just want to get in a car and drive with no particular place to go, listening to the radio. How am I supposed to relate to, or even care, about people like this? Sure, I’m a lot older than they are, but I don’t think I would have identified with them any more if I were 18.
*. So long, Kevin Spacey. He’s disappeared pretty completely as of the time of my writing these notes, with Baby Driver being one of his last roles (his erasure from All the Money in the World being Hollywood’s version of the damnatio memoriae). I guess he really was a jerk, or even something worse, but I did enjoy him as an actor. Doc is a pointless part though.
*. Jamie Foxx basically seemed to be reprising his role as “Motherfuckah” Jones in Horrible Bosses, except (sort of) playing it straight. I hope that isn’t misreading things, but I had trouble taking Bats seriously. Isn’t Baby Driver supposed to be a comedy? That’s the kind of movie Wright does, and as I’ve said, I don’t think we’re meant to take this one as being realistic, however much time Wright spent doing research. I mean, we’re not meant to take it seriously. At the same time, it’s not terribly funny either. Apparently, the scene I thought was the funniest, involving the mix-up with the Michael Myers masks, was a jerry-rigged solution to not being able to use the killer’s mask from Halloween.
*. Is Baby another example of the autistic-spectrum superhero so popular at this time? That was my initial impression, but I don’t think he’s mean to be viewed this way. Then when Doc’s nephew showed up, plugged in to his tablet and cheefully amoral about the business, I realized that the point is that we’re all autistic now anyway, living online, tuned in to our iPods and hiding behind our shades.
*. Whatever else you want to say about the filmmakers of this generation, they sure know their movie history. I’m always impressed when I hear how much of their own fandom works its way into their films. On his solo DVD commentary Wright mentions how Baby’s prison number was actually the release date of The Driver, and how he took the jumpsuits from The Getaway. He also says that he considers Baby Driver to be a “spiritual sequel” to both films. So it’s not like he thought he was doing something totally new here. Instead this is mainly an update and homage.
*. I feel as though I’ve written way too much now on a movie I didn’t care much about in the first place. I guess I’ve been trying to explain my confusion at its critical reception. This seemed to me to be way over the top. It’s a fun little movie, but incredibly light and clichéd, without a hint of transgressiveness, irony, or even individual style. I kept looking for some explanation of what made people think there was anything special to it and all I came up with was car chases and music.
*. Richard Brody’s New Yorker review was one of the few that I thought was on target. He called it “an imitation of generation’s worth of imitations (most conspicuously, those of Quentin Tarantino’s neo-heist-ism), each of which exists solely as a vehicle for the personal obsessions and originality of style with which a director infuses it.” Unfortunately, he didn’t think Wright had much of an artistic vision to express, and so came up with “a Disneyfied version of an action film.”
*. Where I would disagree with Brody is in his conclusion that Baby Driver “has still satisfied critics who are in love with the idea of Hollywood providing something that’s not based on a superhero franchise, providing something that, with its retro soundtrack and retro cleanness, reminds them of a Hollywood that no longer exists.” Actually, I think Baby Driver is a sort of superhero movie and is less a throwback to some vanished Hollywood than a film representative of where we are now. Reviewers weren’t trying to register some symbolic resistance to any of this. They were just showing how much they’ve given up.

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