It’s been a cray couple of weeks, as many of you know if you listened to our most recent podcast. Whew.
But I did manage to catch the movie Baby Driver before I odyssey’ed to Chicago and I wanted to chat about it.
Now, I’m a fan of action/adventure flicks and heck, yeah, I’ll even go in for a movie with buttloads of car chases and heists, and that’s basically what this movie is.
But it has some really interesting other things going on.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this film, since the trailers don’t really tell you the flavor or the subplots, so I thought I might be getting a Fast and Furious knockoff, but oh, no. And I should’ve had more faith, because the writer and director of this strangely appealing action/adventure flick is Edgar Wright, best-known for his so-called “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013), which he made with collaborators (and actors) Simon Pegg, Nira Park, and Nick Frost. I’m a huge fan of these movies (slated for future Fangirl Fridays…). All have Wright’s quirky sensibilities, attention to detail, and deal with apocalyptic themes.
Which was why I was a little surprised that he’s responsible for Baby Driver, which is not apocalyptic as his other films were. However, it does have a sense of impending, gripping doom in the last third as you watch one character just completely unravel and spill his unhinged-ness into the once tight-night group and pretty much derail the precise plans that have been set up. The unraveling sets up an ingenious and tightly wound chain of events that lead to the showdown between Baby and another character, and it was fascinating to watch Wright tie the character arcs and plotlines together.
And on that note,
THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS BLOG. OMG STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE AND YOU PLAN TO DO SO.
All rightie. Let’s do this.
First, I’ll be clear. This is an R-rated film, for language and violence. And it does have its share of violence and the threat of violence involving guns and cars, especially. So if that’s not your cup of tea, this is not the film for you.
All right. Second, trailer thingie!
So our hero here is “Baby” (Ansel Elgort; The Fault in Our Stars), the young man who is the super-skilled getaway driver on a series of heists in Atlanta. We find out right away that he’s a quirky guy, this “Baby.”
The movie opens with him pulling to a stop in a flashy red car. There are three passengers. Baby starts the music on his iPod and the three passengers get out and we then see that they are actually a heist team. Baby has his headphones in through the whole scene and he’s listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. We know this because this film does a superb job of integrating the music Baby listens to into the soundtrack, so we’re always in his audio feed.
See the first 6 minutes here:
And that’s a really important part of this character and, ultimately, the movie — music. Baby is constantly listening to music. We find out it’s because he was in a terrible car accident as a child in which both his parents apparently died and he has tinnitis as a result and the music helps drown out the ringing. We also see that the music plays a really important role in his driving. He somehow uses it in the timing of the maneuvers he does and even in terms of the heist teams he works with.
So why is he involved in a life of crime, this rather sweet, soulful young man?
Because the character Doc, who organizes all the heists, busted him trying to jack his car back in the day and as penance, he basically forced Baby into being his getaway driver. After Baby does a certain number of jobs, apparently, Doc will let him go and live his own life.
In the meantime, Baby’s been making a ton of cash from his role in the heists that he stashes under the floorboards of the apartment he shares with his foster father, Joseph (played by deaf actor C.J. Jones, who is both wheelchair bound and deaf. Which makes for interesting interactions because here’s Baby, who is literally obsessed with sound and music and yet his foster father uses other senses to share parts of Baby’s life. Some of my favorite scenes in this movie were Baby’s interactions with Joseph.
It becomes clear pretty quickly that Baby really wants out of this situation, but the icy and micro-managing Doc has his hooks in him, and though he always changes the three-person teams for his various heists, Baby is the one constant. Doc, meanwhile, somehow has ties to local police and other city fathers. He’s some kind of muckety-muck, which makes him more dangerous, of course.
Anyway, some of the other team members accept Baby’s quirks because he is the best driver ever, but some try to mess with him, like the sadistic and rage-filled Bats (Jamie Foxx) and the asshole-ish Griff (Jon Bernthal; you might know him as Shane from Walking Dead). Buddy (Jon Hamm), however, comes to his defense more than once, which makes what happens between these two all the more pulse-pounding and tense.
The first heist we see Baby drive for goes pretty well. The second, which involves Doc’s new team, includes Bats, played by an absolutely riveting Jamie Foxx. Bats is a walking bomb, a man so full of nihilistic rage and narcissistic (possibly sociopathic?) self-interest that we realize it’s only a matter of time before things go wrong. And oh, boy do they. Bats’ team includes a couple of low-life thugs and Baby, and they’re sent to knock off an armored car.
In the course of that, one of the team kills one of the armored car guards, which not only throws off Baby’s timing, but it absolutely horrifies him. Plus, there’s a guy in the parking lot of the bank who seems to be a military veteran of some sort, because he follows them after the heist and almost succeeds in putting an end to the whole thing. One of the team also dropped his gun, so we know Doc is not going to be happy about this and Bats, for his part, has taken a deep dislike to Baby.
Fortunately, Baby’s done his last job for Doc…he thinks. And he’s falling for Debora (Lily James), a waitress at a diner he frequents, where his mom apparently worked before she died. These two form a quirky, tight bond and start talking about driving away from everything, headed West. Which is such a classic car theme — maybe even a trope — but it works here.
Regardless, Doc strongarms Baby into doing “one more job” and this time, the team is Bats, Buddy, and Buddy’s wife Darling (a badass Eiza González).
First, they have to acquire guns from a dealer, but it goes terribly wrong and Bats ends up killing a whole bunch of people. They go through with the heist anyway, but it’s clear that Bats is a loose cannon and getting looser, and shit goes sideways almost immediately. The final 30 minutes of this movie are nail-biting, as one thing after another goes wrong — demonstrating what can happen when you have just one loose screw in the lot — including the shooting death of Darling and Buddy blaming Baby for it.
So as Baby is trying to extricate himself from this really horrible situation, Buddy becomes basically the Terminator and he absolutely will.not.stop in his quest to kill Baby for “causing” Darling’s death. And Debora gets sucked into this vortex of horrible, as does Joseph, and Baby tries to get them all out of it because at his core, he’s a decent guy and he knows that Doc is bad juju all around.
Because of that, though, Baby has to stay close to him because he knows what Doc is capable of. Having said that, Doc does put himself on the line for Baby in the heart-hammering last 20 minutes or so, which makes him almost an antihero.
Other things I dug about this film:
1. This is a fab trip through Tune City, y’all. Hands down, people, this is by far one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard put to a movie and what makes it even BETTER is that it was integrated into the plot and into Baby’s character seamlessly. It’s a mixture of blues, rock, 60s R&B, classic soul, jazz, a slice of 80s punk, a bit of rap…there is something for everyone up in here and omg I loved it. I LOVED this. I’m a huge music fanatic and music shows up everywhere in my life, so DAMN.
2. Acting! Well done, with actors playing roles I really didn’t expect. Like I said, Jamie Foxx — omg. I’m not used to seeing him so villanous and destructive. He’s a true talent and I loved seeing him bring this odious character to life. Bats oozed scary and violence from the moment he first appeared on screen. He’s smart, but unhinged and that combined is a very bad thing.
I’m not overly familiar with Ansel Elgort’s work; his role as Baby is probably the first I’ve really watched him, but I kind of like him as an actor, and I like how he played Baby, who has some damage both physical and emotional from his past and he’s arranged parts of his life to help him cope with that. He has several different iPods, for example, that all have different soundtracks for different things he’s up to and he actually dabbles in making music, too, using sounds he records through the day. He always has an iPod and a tape recorder because sound is how he navigates his world I actually wondered if perhaps this character might be neurodivergent in addition to the injuries he sustained as a child, but the script didn’t really explore that possibility. Regardless, his reliance on sound and how it fits with specific things he does makes his relationship with his deaf foster dad so amazing. Love in the absence of sound. Watching these two interact was such a joy.
Speaking of: C.J. Jones as Joseph. WHO IS THIS GUY AND CAN I PLEASE SEE HIM IN MORE BECAUSE HE IS AWESOME (find out more about his previous work here). This guy stole every scene he was in, and the rapport he had with Baby was heart-warming. I would give this movie awards just for those scenes.
Jon Hamm: omg who knew Hamm could be such a brutal, freaky, Terminator-ish guy? Buddy is actually a Wall Street Banker-turned bad guy for bad deals, and he hooks up with Darling (Eiza González who totally needed more screen time, dammit) and the two of them are all over each other in the first part of this film but when Darling dies in a hail of police bullets, Buddy loses it. And he’s one of those guys who, when he loses it, becomes a single-minded, laser-focused killing machine. Unlike Bats, who lives up to his name and just goes bats(hit) and opens cans of rage all over the place.
Lily James: she plays an interesting role. She’s also a music fan, and has some issues in her past, which makes her a good match for a guy like Baby. She doesn’t know that Baby is involved in cray (she just thinks he’s “a driver”) until toward the end, but they’ve already forged a solidarity bond in addition to their super-sweet attraction, so she’s on board to help this interesting young guy in any way she can. She has to deal with crazy — including Bats — and it’s interesting to watch how that unfolds.
3. The way the plot builds. We start with Baby and the heist crew pulling to a stop. They sit there then 3 get out and Baby, the driver, stays in the car and then he does an awesome air band kind of thing to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. We have no idea what’s going on, since it’s just him. And then the heist team piles into the car and BOOM we’re right into an amazing car chase and from there, Wright winds Baby’s story into this really clever heist plot and then shoots it through with Baby’s personal story and how he’s been trying to extricate himself. Like other Wright films, there’s a lot of really subtle detail and foreshadowing in things characters say and do, so it’s a cerebral kind of car chase/heist flick but Wright is so good at integrating disparate elements that you don’t even notice that you’re thinking and analyzing the characters and how things work in the plot. I dug that, too.
4. Camera work. It’s a car chase movie. Those are hard to do well. This one uses interesting angles and perspectives, because Baby is the linchpin here. He drives in every chase, so we have his view on the cray as it unfolds and I rather liked that intimate space — we were sharing the ride with him, clutching whatever the hell we could in the car as he downshifts, skids, slides, and follows the beat of his music. A fresh and different take on car chases.
5. Strong dialogue, well-delivered. That, of course, is a testament to the cast, but I pay attention to how well people say the lines, and it’s a testament to Wright as a director and writer that this film has such strong dialogue that is so well-delivered. Pay attention to the dialogue. It tells you a lot of things about the characters. Also, this is Edgar Wright, so you will find subtle and not-so-subtle foreshadowing in the dialogue.
All that said, there are some things that didn’t work for me. The ending is one of those, and you’ll see why if you see it. It involves a time passage, so it’s almost an epilogue, and it felt tacked on and a little too cutesy for all the crazy and violence prior to it. But it wasn’t a horrible ending. It just didn’t seem to work for what we had going on earlier.
Also, not much grrlpower. There was Darling, who ended up being a hell of a badass in the brief scenes we were able to really see her work, but she’s taken out of the mix — basically, she served as the plot device to cause Buddy to go over the edge and turn his murderous impulses onto Baby. And there was Debora, who also didn’t get enough screen time and ended up serving as a plot device for Baby to really try to get out of the life of crime. And there’s the damaged-hero-who-loved-his-mama trope, which we see in Baby’s flashbacks. His mom was a singer, too, and his obsessions with music may alleviate his tinnitis, yes, but it’s also serving as a connection to his dead mom, who was also abused by Baby’s father. So we have the long-suffering abused mom who is killed in an accident trope serving as a plot device to explain Baby’s circumstances.
It is, thus, a Bechdel Test fail because the women characters just don’t spend enough time in the same space to discuss anything besides Baby (waitresses at the diner). Darling comes to Baby’s defense from bullying by the other characters, but she doesn’t interact with other female characters really.
That said, grrlpower isn’t really the focus of this film, which doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s just not what you should expect if you see it. It’s a great flick, with interesting subplots and a range of really talented actors creating really interesting characters in an off-beat heist/car chase story and you will get caught up in Baby’s attempts to quit Doc, as it were, and find his own way. You’ll root for him, too, and in a summer film, I enjoy losing myself in a well-paced plot with interesting characters.
There you go, friends. It’s not for everyone in terms of its violence and lack of grrlpower (if that’s a dealbreaker for you), but again, it’s an offbeat intriguing car chase noir. I enjoyed it.
Happy Friday and may the odds be ever in our favor.