Baby Driver, the new film from much-loved-in-these-quarters director Edgar Wright, is disappointing. Watching it at an early screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, audiences were treated to pre-show shorts in which Wright counted down his 5 Favorite Movie Car Crashes, Car Chase Scenes, Heist Songs, and more.
Then we watched his film and wondered what he’d done with all that knowledge of the heist genre and on-screen automobile mayhem. For while Baby Driver starts strong — with an antic, musically-driven, inventive chase scene — from there it spirals down into a porridge of dubious scenarios, questionable characters, and technically impressive but emotionally unengaging hullaballoo set to a soundtrack that didn’t pay off the premise.
The premise being there was the Simon & Garfunkel song, ‘Baby Driver’, so Edgar Wright imagined a movie around that song title. Like with Pirates of the Caribbean, but beginning with a song, not an amusment park ride.
In Baby Driver, a young and young-looking fellow, Baby (Ansel Elgort) — orphaned in a car wreck — has become ensnared as the getaway driver for a very odd criminal mastermind, Doc (Kevin Spacey), who hires even odder ne’er-do-wells (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eliza González, Jon Bernthal, Flea) to pull off an insanely compressed series of high-stakes robberies. Baby doesn’t want to drive, but he’s the best and he owes Doc, so.
From the beginning, it’s a real head-scratcher. Baby’s parents died in a car wreck, which also left him with tinnitus. Because he has tinnitus, he always has his headphones in, listening to music, which — it is suggested — gives him some sort of driving superpower, in which he drives to the thrumming beat or whatever. Leaving aside the fact that having your parents die in a car wreck seems like a strange incentive to become a daredevil driver, Wright fails to really do much with the music/driving connection except to have Baby listen to good songs while he’s driving.
There is no there there, save for in the excellent first car chase scene. Sure. Baby listens to music and sort of moves to it, but for someone who communicates visually as brilliantly as Edgar Wright has in the past, Baby’s driving soundtrack didn’t feel connected to his driving choices or skill or even luck. There was music. There was driving. There wasn’t a sense that the music did anything for Baby beyond drowning out his tinnitus.
Haphazard would be the word I’d use to describe the scenario. Character motivations are, at best, befuddled and certainly inconsistent. “Disappointed” was the word I shouted out loud on Mission St., as we left the film. Wright has — without frequent writing partner Simon Pegg — scripted a heist film that avoids the heists and a thriller that forgets to raise the stakes, in order to make a film that looks like a musical comedy, without the comedy.
I know. Everyone’s a critic.
But it’s not all for naught. Here are some ideas for other Simon & Garfunkel songs one might retcon into a film plot so the track could play over the closing credits satisfyingly.
- Hazy Shade of Winter: In which an aspiring art student named Winter is tormented by one of her peers, who keeps mimicking her work and style and submitting early, so Winter looks like the rip-off artist. Then Winter loses it and kills the other girl with a pot of cerulean blue and stuffs her in a kiln. Think Black Swan meets Ghost World.
- El Condor Pasa: A baby condor is caught in the grill of a semi driving up the California coast and can’t work itself free until it reaches Hoboken. Through a series of adventures and dance numbers, it learns to fly back home. Starring Mel Gibson as the semi.
- I Am a Rock: Documentary about Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in which he runs for President of the United States only to lose to Kevin Hart, who sweeps the write-in vote following an ill-considered comedy bit.
- Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine: I’ll tell you about this one when you’re older and you’ve eaten more fruit.
- The Boxer: Tim makes boxes, but, like, they’re really nice boxes. Then one comes alive and starts stealing his teeth. Andy Serkis stars as the teeth.
- April Come She Will: Ten women hang around a Bennigan’s in Las Vegas waiting for their bride-to-be friend April, who, unbeknownst to them, is really a hedgehog and not, in fact, engaged to Justin Beiber as she’s been claiming. By the time April shows up, ready to finally come clean, everyone has left and stuck her with the check for six tons of appletinis.
- Leaves That Are Green: Xi Yen and Dong Ng struggle to survive when their dragon fruit orchard falls prey to a horde of hungry millennials who insist on photographing and eating everything in sight. It is only when Dong Ng designs a dragon fruit rating app and the wet season monsoon voids the warranty on all of their iPhones that color once again returns to this stretch of northern Viet Nam. Mel Gibson stars as the monsoon.
- Cloudy: In this film from The French Connection cinematic universe, Roy Scheider‘s character uncovers a plot to sell fur seals to the Yemenis in exchange for barrels of really hot sand. He doesn’t give a fuck so spends the next two hours drinking rye and playing darts.
- Bridge Over Troubled Water: Space Admiral Cxl-ra’hu must defeat the Diabolical Nref FLirrhai before they turn a universe of suns into an exceptionally shitty amusement park for interstellar wood lice. Again.
- At the Zoo: Hey look! It’s a goddamned lemur. Far out.
The stakes are wrapped up in the question of what will allow Baby to let go of the wheel, the iPod, and his juvenile conception of heterosexual love. These stakes elevate steadily until he submits himself to jail, where all three are forbidden.
I chose to watch with the understanding that the story illustrates his release in the moment of death, a la Owl Creek / Jacob’s Ladder / etc. The 5yr old obviously dies in that violent crash. The rest is a child’s momentary conception of defeating car crashes forever.
Fine, but a five year old does not dream of romance or of defeating car crashes. Moms voice; sure. And if that’s Wright’s intent, it’s still clunky and forced. Your viewpoint makes it better, but not enough.
It’s just like some danged interweb denizen to spoil the endings of two movies in one comment! Might as well throw in A Pure Formality while you’re at it!
Meanwhile, yes, of course you are correct. The only way the movie makes sense is if it’s the ghostly imagined future of a dying child.
Speaking of dead children, Frontalot, have you seen The Book of Henry? You are hereby assigned to both watch it and write it up. I trust no one with this task but you.
haven’t seen, will do
I just came here to remind myself of Wright’s last movie before seeing his new one, but unfortunately found myself wishing we could see any of your ten suggested films instead.
We could always just stay home, drink, and watch Anaconda. But yes, optimism does not run high.