This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on July. 17, 2017.
They call me Baby Driver,
And once upon a pair of wheels,
I hit the road and I’m gone,
What’s my number?
I wonder how your engines feel.
So goes the chorus of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver,” from which Edgar Wright’s new film clearly takes its name and inspiration, as well as its plot. It’s a fun song.
Yes that’s right, ladies and gentlemen, ‘Baby Driver’ follows the exploits of a driver named Baby. And from there, we’re off.
The title tells us a great deal about the film we’re to see. Things are not going to be complicated. There will be a Baby (Ansel Elgort), and he will be a driver. Kevin Spacey’s Doc – a kingpin – sums up the film’s interest in its subject clearly and with economy:
“He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel,” he says. “What else do you need to know?”
Maybe a little too much? Baby’s parents were killed in a car accident when he was young (he sat in the back listening to an early generation iPod as an argument and lack of awareness led them into the back of an 18-wheeler), and now lives with his deaf foster father. He loves listening to music (it drowns out the “hum in his drum,” as Doc describes Baby’s tinnitus), making music (he remixes everyday conversations he records), and driving fast. That’s how he got involved with Doc in the first place. Baby jacked Doc’s ride and is coerced into getaway driving to pay off his debts.
That’s a lot of baggage for a film so ostensibly simple. And things tangle further with the introduction of Debora, a waitress and Baby’s love interest. All she wants to do is to “head west on 20, in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have.” That sounds nice to baby, too, but he’s wrapped up in a world he can’t rightly leave. And soon, too, is she.
There are three main heist sequences in the film. Each starts the same – with a call from Doc and a debrief in a bunker of sorts. It’s there we’re introduced to three of Doc’s gang: Buddy (John Hamm), Darling (Elza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Bats, in particular, is trouble. He’s violent and a little off-kilter. He doesn’t much like Baby, and Baby doesn’t much like him. The four work together on the third and final heist of the film – it does not go well.
There’s a strange push and pull at the heart of Baby Driver, which is at once meant to be the sort of retro, vinyl-record-collection of a film – knowingly cool and sexy, like James Dean with a cigarette.
It’s hard to enjoy smoking, though, when all you can think about is lung cancer. And the film weighs itself down with a moral sincerity that implores viewers to stay on Baby’s side, even as the body count rises. It’s like watching Bart Simpson write “I will not waste chalk” on the blackboard.
And then there’s the love story – convenient, built upon the non-existent charm of Elgort, it doesn’t quite work. The viewer is asked to believe in the power of a love that is not built or felt, and, in fact, turns the entire film. Without the love, the turn is a cheap parlor trick that almost ruins what fun your having.
Because you are having fun. Baby Driver is your Spotify Daily Mix of a film: loud, fun, always on in the background. You might look down and see your foot tapping along, but then you don’t have Spotify Premium. Because it makes a difference.
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright