Wright’s Driver a Violent Busby Berkeley Vehicular Love Story
Give Edgar Wright credit; he’s not one for genre convention. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World’s End, the filmmaker subverts expectation whenever he can, not seeming to care a lick if drama invades his comedy, romance crashes his horror or tragedy finds its way inside his science fiction or action. He loves to keep the audience guessing, paying deft homage to his favorite films with a delicate affection that’s as endearing as it is subtle. The joy he takes in making cinematic spectacles of varying types can be felt in every frame of film he shoots, and I find it difficult not to get a little excited whenever he has a new effort on the verge of hitting theatres.
Wright’s latest high-octane motion picture, Baby Driver, is a foul-mouthed, ultra-violent spin on the heist thriller, the whole thing playing like some sort of whimsical hybrid of Walter Hill’s The Driver, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. It’s a bizarre little lark filled with fast cars, angry thugs, narrow escapes, romantic innocence and sincere self-sacrifice, all of it bouncing along to a one-of-a-kind musical cadence that’s glorious. The film is an anarchic bit of amorous mayhem that’s a heck of a lot of fun, the smashing spectacle of squealing tires, hairpin turns and goodhearted youngsters opening themselves up to love no matter what the consequences more than enough to warrant the price of a matinee ticket.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver in town. He’s the only constant in any of the crews verbose crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) assembles for any of the various heists he masterminds. Baby has driven for a variety of thugs, including sadistically respectful lovebirds Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), belligerent know-it-all Griff (Jon Bernthal) and unhinged maniac Bats (Jamie Foxx). Thanks to a childhood trauma that resulted in a chronic hearing condition that can keep him from focusing, the young wheelman drowns out the noise with a playlist of hits by the likes Queen, Martha & The Vandellas, T. Rex, Young MC, Beck and countless additional artists spanning the musical spectrum.
But Baby wants out, and after one more job he’s hoping Doc will let him go. He wants to properly take care of his deaf, wheelchair-bound adoptive father Joseph (CJ Jones) without the threat of jail hanging over his head. He wants to avoid hanging out with killers and reprobates on a semi-regular basis. He wants to get a real job, preferably one where he can continue to drive his car fast and listen to whatever tunes his little aching heart desires. Most of all, Baby wants to romance 24-hour diner waitress Debora (Lily James) in relative peace and quiet, the two sharing an instant connection the likes of which deserves to have a love song all its own written about it.
Baby Driver grooves to its own eccentric beat, bobbing and weaving its way along as Baby figures out how to get himself out from underneath Doc’s thumb while at the same time ensuring Debora doesn’t end up being collateral damage. It’s a Busby Berkeley musical crossed with the raucous adrenaline-fueled carnage of a John Frankenheimer car chase, a rather sensitively chaste love story sitting at the center of all the intensely choreographed chaos. Wright centers his focus directly upon Baby, the character’s maturation and growth the central dynamic that makes all this superficially foul-mouthed and gruesomely violent silliness worth emotionally investing in.
Yet, I still cannot say I’m completely head over heels for the director’s latest genre mash-up. For a film that is in constant motion, Wright has a little trouble maintaining dramatic momentum. He lets the energy lag at the strangest times, most notably during the story’s second heist involving an armored car robbery gone awry. The director also gets needlessly cruel at times, almost as if he’s trying to supply some sort of commentary in regards to the cost of the violent lives his characters lead while at the same time going out of his way to revel in every gruesome, bloody demise innocent and guilty alike oftentimes meet. There’s also not a lot in the way of character development for any of the secondary players, and other than a terrifically multifaceted Hamm none of the game supporting cast, including Spacey and Foxx, makes much of a lasting impression.
But Wright stages the central car chases with glorious precision, his adoration for motorized vehicular mayhem readily apparent. He also grants Elgort plenty of room to blossom, the young The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent heartthrob a mesmerizingly seductive presence throughout. His chemistry with an equally luminous James is off the charts, the pair achieving a Gene Kelly meets Leslie Caron old school elegance that’s divine. Watching them together brought a smile to my face I couldn’t have wiped away had I wanted to try, and if these two want to go on and make more movies together here’s my vote they do just that as soon as humanly possible. Baby Driver might not live entirely up to the hype, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful, Wright once again showing he’s a fearless genre-busting directorial wunderkind who’s creative gas tank overflows in originality.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)