Baby Driver is the film that Edgar Wright’s entire career has been building towards. Based on an idea he had almost a decade before Shaun of the Dead, then slightly realized in Mint Royale’s “Blue Song” video, Baby Driver is an embrace of Wright’s strengths: great music cues, perfect editing, and a loving admiration for the films that came before him. Yet it’s one of Wright’s usual strengths that is noticeably absent from Baby Driver: his ability to sneak deeper issues into his multilayered stories. Wright made Shaun of the Dead just as much about arrested development and fractured relationships as it was about zombies. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was deceptively about the fight for self-respect, and The World’s End was one big quest to fight alcoholism. While Baby Driver is impeccably created and one of the most enjoyable films of the year, compared to his other films, it is missing that element that made Wright one of the most exciting directors of the 2000s so far.
Baby Driver is seen through the eyes and ears of the eponymous Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver with tinnitus, who must constantly play music to blare out the buzzing in his ears. Baby drives for the crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom he’s been indebted for years. While Doc’s ever-changing list of partners-in-crime constantly changes, featuring Jon Hamm, Jamie Fox, Jon Bernthal, Flea, Eiza Gonzales, and Lanny Joon, Baby remains the one constant. Once Baby finds the right song to match the mood, be it Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the film’s bravura opening sequence, The Damned, or “Tequila,” Baby becomes one of the finest getaway drivers the cinema has ever seen.
After meeting a charming waitress named Deborah (Lily James) who shares his love of music, and with his debt close to being paid, Baby looks forward to retirement from his life of crime. Of course Doc won’t let Baby out so easily and forces him into one last job, which quickly becomes as complicated as all last jobs always become in the movies.
If the plot to Baby Driver sound familiar, it’s because Wright is playing on decades-long tropes from beginning to end, but putting his own twist on them. Wright’s biggest influence for the film was Walter Hill’s The Driver, also a big point of reference for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, and at many points Baby Driver does come off like the less self-serious take on Drive.
Baby Driver is almost wall-to-wall soundtrack, only occasionally presenting jarring moments of silence. This constant aural stimulation is one gigantic playlist curated by Wright, one that he has honed over decades and is full with inspired and unexpected choices. Even more brilliant is the insane choreography from frequent Sia collaborator Ryan Heffington. It’s not just the car chases and action sequences that are impressive, there’s a inherent rhythm to every action in the film. With Wright’s editing and Heffington’s choreography, Baby doing such mundane tasks as going to get coffee, or listening to a song at the laundromat can make the film feel like it could go into full-blown musical at any moment.
With killer music and style, Baby Driver is without a doubt a Wright film that plays up what audience already love about him. Yet Baby Driver is just as equally a departure for Wright. The script – the first Wright wrote by himself since his little-seen 1995 debut A Fistful of Fingers – is one of Wright’s most basic, which also isn’t as overtly comedic as Wright’s other films. But unlike the usual films of this sort that Wright was influenced by, he creates characters that the audience actually cares for. Even when the films skids into predicitablity, the chemistry between Baby and Debora still boosts the sometimes pedestrian plot. Wright also gets career-best cinematic performances from many of his actors, especially Elgort and James in their fantastic scenes together, and knows exactly how to make Bernthal and Hamm as dynamic as their television characters have been.
At its simplest, Baby Driver is one of the most blissfully fun films of the year, a constant overload of tremendous songs and synchronized choreography unlike anything that’s been seen at the movies in years. While it might not have the layers that Wright’s films have had in the past, it’s a compelling road for Wright to go down, indulging his love of genre films and making a slight swerve in what audience know him for. By succumbing to his love heist films past, Wright creates a film that will also go down as one of the genre greats.