Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Baby Driver

"Your name's Baby? B-A-B-Y baby?" 
A line spoken by Debora, played by the young English actress Lily James, 
doing the cutest damn little Southern accent imaginable.

Oh! Baby! Now, here it is. A really great summer movie that is a true original. I started out with a smile on my face, wishing I could dance along with the music in that crowded theater, experienced moments of pure suspense, even fear, and ended up with chill bumps on my arms and a tear in my eye. 

This is what director Edgar Wright seems to do. He does everything. Late last night, as I tried to categorize his latest film, Baby Driver, describing it to my wife, the genres collided into a nice straight organized line then veered into a turn it's hard to believe possible. "Hell, I don't know, it's like an action-comedy-romance-drama-thriller. More of a thriller than I woulda thought and it's kind of a musical, the soundtrack kicks ass, and there's a really funny Monsters Inc. joke you would love (that's her favorite Pixar...). 

Such is the reason this is my favorite movie of the year* so far. It's the kind of movie general audiences and cinephile elitists can agree on. It's the best kind of movie. 

Ansel Elgort stars as the titular Baby, a young getaway driver for a criminal mastermind who goes by Doc (Kevin Spacey), the kind of dude who always has a next move, endless jobs, mostly banks and armored cars. His jobs are completed by always-rotating crews of professional bad hombres. Some of them, like Jon Bernthal's Griff and Jamie Foxx's Bats, don't dig on Baby. Why's he always got earbuds in and sunglasses on? Why's he so quiet? "Are you a mute?" Bats asks. "No." Baby replies. Also, on the roster are a dude named No-Nose played by Flea (always so good when he pops up) and Jon Hamm as the likable but edgy Buddy always with his partner-in-crime and girlfriend Darling (Eliza González).

Baby isn't much of a criminal himself. Too sweet. Too good. But he's good at his job, and he's indebted to Doc for a certain amount owed from a mistake in his past. He's a kid who dances to his music, makes mash-ups of beats and voice recordings he takes with his tape recorder that he keeps next to his several iPods, where underneath in his jacket pocket is that flip phone, the one that calls him to the next job. He takes care of his caretaker, a deaf man named Joseph (CJ Jones), dancing around the apartment, smitten with Debora (Lily James), a waitress at his favorite diner, who has given him a new purpose, and some new favorite songs.

There are chemistries between and among this great cast throughout with Ansel Elgort most perfect among all. He carries the weight of this film and he does it, the talking, the dancing, the driving, all of it with the grace of a getaway-driving Gene Kelly. He exhibits fear with the diabolical Foxx character, understanding with the slimy but soulful Hamm character, strength with the maniacal Spacey character, pure vulnerability, adoration with the lovely Lily James character, care for all, and confidence behind the wheel. Elgort, only seen by me in the okay teen romance The Fault in Our Stars and the truly horrible Divergent series, should make a name for himself here. I'm a fan.

But the true star of this show is the creator of this world, the English writer/director Edgar Wright, whose Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz remain two of the best action comedies I've seen, both high genre pieces (zombie and cop respectively) with equal parts heart and style. And that's what makes him a special filmmaker. Watching his movies, and Baby Driver is no better evidence of this, is to go through a huge range of emotions, which I alluded to at the top. He uses soundtrack to absolute perfection and, in that, Baby Driver is his masterpiece thus far. This thing is one or two dance numbers away from jukebox musical with an array of jazzy funk and two songs called Debora, or Debra, and, of course, a lot of B-A-B-Y Baby songs.

When Baby's not dancing down the street on a perfectly choreographed coffee run, the dancing is mostly done with cars. Real, practical effects here. Elaborate camera rigs and other such filmic sorcery. The sort of stuff that got everyone riled up about Mad Max: Fury Road a couple summers ago. Wright straight brings his game and makes everything move at a rhythm by design, throwing a big FU to the CGI spectacles we now live and breathe. (Thanks for the fresh air, man.) Movement and sound blend together every step of the way for nearly two hours of running time. His sound design team...may they all get lavish gifts, huge paydays, hell, throw these dudes an Oscar.

And I haven't even mentioned the writing. How the dialogue plays with the beats in the action and the rhythms of the music, sometimes underneath, sometimes overt. How it calls back upon itself, referencing song lyrics and movie lines all the while. I also applaud Wright's decision for the setting and filming location. Atlanta, Georgia. A Southern city much used in film and TV in the last decade or so (because it's cheaper), though it is usually used in place of something else. Here it is another character in the movie. It's road ways and landmarks and traffic and people and police all part of the show. Atlanta has never looked so great or sounded so damn smooth, even down to the perfect touches of Southern nuance in the dialogue of both Baby and Debora.

I've laid on the praise, but, hell, so has everyone else. It's 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. And, shit, even Guillermo Del Toro, the more genre-driven corner of the Mexican Trinity of Auteurs, the master to so many of my movie-obsessed brethren, laid it on even thicker than I would. Dude straight "spread it to the edges." He even cleared up how to define this movie, and why it works.

From his 13-part Tweet:
The key to understanding it fully-at least for me-is in the fact that it is a fable, complete with its very own Disney prince and princess, but it is also rock 'n' roll. Meaning the magic exists in a dirty, genre-tainted world. 
Yes. That's it. That's why this is a great movie. It's because we know Baby is too good for such a world, and we feel his sweetness, even in the darkest segments of the film (and it gets very dark, more thriller than I ever would have thought), every single amped-up, violent, vulgar moment. It's so many things I can't wait to watch it again, for fear that I've missed something.

For now, I'll just let Simon and Garfunkel take us out. "I was born one dark gray morn with music comin' in my ears, in my ears...they call me Baby Driver and once upon a pair of wheels, I hit the road and I'm gone..."

*This is only the fourth 2017 release I've seen. That will be changing soon. Can't be certain about this movie's position.
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Baby Driver
dir. Edgar Wright, 2017
★★★★



Screened at Regal Riviera 8 in Downtown Knoxville, TN, on June 27th, 2017. 

10 comments:

  1. You summed it up there! Loved it. I was worried it might not live up to the hype but my gad it did. Guillermo Del Toro tweets were perfect and I actually never thought of it like that. Great movie! Just hope Wright comes home to make more great movies though...

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    1. The hype is to be believed on this one. Really and truly great. I can't stop thinking about it, especially the romance angle and the soundtrack. Loved James and Elgort together. We're glad to have him here in The States, and I'm really glad he chose Atlanta for this one. Great city that is underappreciated in the movies.

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  2. I hadn't planned on seeing this as I cannot stand the lead actor's face (lol) but the reviews are swaying me and I have nothing else to do on Monday. I'll probably catch it.

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    1. He's great. I like his face. Lol. It's well worth it. Go.

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  3. I skipped reading this but will come back next week after watching, heard nothing but good things!

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    1. Yes. Please do come back after you've watched. I am in awe of this thing and really kiss its ass. I feel no shame.

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    2. Yeah so I'm back and I loathed it completely :/ There was a part of the movie I did like starting with last robbery but even that went to hell quickly because honestly Baby was just...not a good character to root for for me. The romance angle didn't work for me so the waitress girl just came off as so naive and silly to go with this guy. And Buddy actually had great reason for seeking revenge. But those are just story flaws for me what genuinely made me hate the movie was Baby mouthing the lyrics to the songs and making those mix tapes. That was so cringeworthy.

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    3. So, essentially, everything that didn't work for you, worked perfectly for me. Since I often dance around and sing badass songs while making peanut butter sandwiches, I found all that the opposite of cringeworthy. In fact, I would've joined him. Buddy did have good reason, which made the last act especially fun...and thrilling. And Lily James is perfect. God! I love her.

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  4. Excellent review, man.

    This film is a flat-out masterpiece. Everything about this film is perfect. Not only the best film of the year so far, but one of the best of the decade so far. It may just be my favorite Edgar Wright film. Here's how I'd rank his films:

    1. Baby Driver
    2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
    3. Shaun of the Dead
    4. Hot Fuzz
    5. The World's End

    My review of this will be up soon, as I still have to write up a few reviews before this.

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    1. Right on. Thanks. I like your list. Scott Pilgrim would be behind Shaun and Hot Fuzz for me though. I didn't like that movie as much on rewatch.

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