Edgar Wright has directed some of the smartest action comedies that I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I was worried that this film wouldn’t live up to these other great ones, but all I can say is that nobody will put Baby Driver in the corner! Baby Driver is an incredibly smart, funny film with great characters and stakes. The best way to describe Baby Driver is as a cross between The Fast and Furious franchise and a good movie. Baby Driver stands out because of the way the music was used throughout the film, the tone, and the way that the characters complement the overall story.
The music is the heart and soul of Baby Driver. Not only does it bring you into Baby’s (Ansel Elgort) view of the world, but it also drives (no pun intended) the cadence of each and every scene. The music is such an important “character” in the film that Edgar Wright wrote his scenes around the music that would be playing in the background. Wright even included the music on a thumb drive with the script when it was sent out to the studio executives and actors. The best example of music commanding the pace of a scene is in the laundromat. The scene begins with Baby and Debora (Lily James) tapping their feet to the song “Debra,” which progresses into a romantic banter as they share headphones. Their movement throughout the scene felt more like a dance where Baby was pursuing Debora. Remember, the sparks initially ignited between these two from a common interest in music. Now here they were falling in love while literally being connected by their love for music. How awesome is that directing choice?! Just in case it wasn’t obvious enough, Wright finished that scene with a shot of Baby and Debora dancing in the reflection of a spinning dryer that looked like a record. There are so many other scenes (“Bell Bottoms” during the opening car chase) that I want to write about but the laundromat scene was the one that really stood out to me for capitalizing on the use of music and musical imagery to drive a scene’s cadence and emotion.
Edgar Wright boldly and unapologetically set the tone in the opening heist scene by saying, “We’re here to have some fun.” What can I say, he delivered! The film was incredibly fun but the art is in how Wright made the film fun. Many films use comedy to have fun while others use great action sequences. Many times directors use these at the expense of each other. Baby Driver used both perfectly because they were intertwined. How might you ask? It goes back to the musical cadence in each scene’s progression. Think about the way a song can have upbeat and downbeat parts but both parts feel like they belong the song. It is the same concept for how action and comedy can be used in a scene. Anyone can spot an action beat or joke that doesn’t fit within the scene just like someone could tell if a note didn’t belong in a song. Wright’s jokes didn’t draw attention to themselves and seem like out-of-place notes. They played naturally within the scene’s progression.
Lets take a look at the Mike Meyers heist scene. I laughed so hard when JD (Lanny Loon) picked up the wrong masks for the heist. The best part of that joke was that it helped build the tension for the heist. Building tension with a joke is almost as difficult as taking a Valley Girl’s problems seriously. Generally a joke is a way to relieve tension because a punch line is the climax of a joke. However, this joke built tension because it told me that these guys were in no way prepared for the heist. Baby and Bats were competent, sure, but the other two were idiots. The mask snafu was a great way to build the tension for the action sequence in a fun comedic way. By the way, I have to mention how awesome it was that Baby wouldn’t let the heist begin unless the crew got out of the car at the proper timing with the song. Kind of reminds you of how Baby wouldn’t drive off with that grandma’s car until he found the right song huh? That is another example of building tension with comedy. The absurdity of finding a song in such a moment of urgency was hilarious. The pace of how the radio changed built tension by making me feel the urgency and feel the cops gaining ground on Baby.
Baby Driver’s tone stayed consistent partly due to the scene transitions. This is classic Edgar Wright. He always uses quick shot transitions to 1) fill in the gaps for how a scene progressed to the next scene and 2) provide a cadence to transition to the next scene. There is a transition that demonstrates both of these concepts perfectly. The scene transition shows a quick shot of a doorbell followed by a quick shot of someone grabbing a jacket. These shots are accompanied by their sound effects, which come accross as a musical cadence progressing the story from one scene to the next. This particular scene’s cadence and visuals told me that a guy rang Baby’s doorbell, Baby talked to him to find out what was going on, Baby grabbed a jacket, and got into the car…all in the span of 1 second. This type of transition is so effective because it briefly fills in all of the information I needed to get from one scene to the next in a very engaging way. There were numerous examples of this kind of transition throughout the film. I noticed that most of them followed a “Boom Boom Clap” pattern, kind of like “We Will Rock You” by Queen. I thought it was even more clever that many of these transitions featured close-ups of circular objects…musical records anyone? My favorite transition featured a close-up of a tire starting to spin just like a record beginning to play a song. I can’t think of a better way to symbolically start a new scene. The more I write about this film the more I appreciate just how brilliant Wright’s execution was!
Baby (Ansel Elgort)
Baby is basically the worst nightmare for any dad of a teenage daughter. He is charming, exciting, and a bit of a bad boy with enough good qualities to make girls think they can change him to leave crime behind. Plus, what dad wants to get his ass beat in a go-kart race by their daughter’s punk boyfriend?! Let’s be honest. Thats exactly what would happen because Baby is by far the best getaway driver in all of Atlanta. Baby also has a lot of depth to his character. Its obvious that he has a good heart because of how he tries to always be there for his deaf foster dad. He also repeatedly tries to leave his life of crime behind that he was coerced into in the first place. There are so many other examples throughout the film that always remind you that Baby is a good-hearted guy that doesn’t belong in life of crime. My favorite part of Baby’s character is why he constantly listens to music. On the surface he listens to it to drown out his tinnitus (ringing of the ear). Music is his escape from his ear injury. This is completely symbolic of the fact that he uses music as an escape from the pain of his mom’s death. Tinnitus is the physical scar that represents the emotional scars he suffered when his mom died in the car accident. Remember that his mom was a singer. Music reminds him of the good moments he had with his mom. They remind him of happiness. Also, the fact that his mom died in a car accident suggests that Baby perfected his driving skills because he wants to be great at the thing that could have saved his mom. This kind of detail into who Baby is and why he is the way that he is makes this film stand out among the other action movies this summer.
Debora (Lily James)
Debora is the ultimate sweetheart. She is innocent, kind, and optimistic. She is the dream for any dad of a teenage daughter. She is also Baby’s dream because she is almost his mother reincarnate. Debora and Baby’s mom both love to sing. They both worked at the same diner. They are almost the same person, which made it so believable that Baby would fall in love with her. Wright wanted to portray Baby and Debora’s relationship as a timeless love. Think about how Baby dreamed in black and white (who does that?) of meeting Debora by a 1950s car. Think about how Baby only contacted her through the diner’s landline even though everyone has smartphones in the 21st century. Finally, the film ended with Baby meeting Debora after being released from prison. The shot initially started as a black and white shot that slowly transitioned into a colorful shot, showing how their love story is timeless. It reminded me of a Bonnie and Clyde dynamic…just without the whole death thing. Overall, Debora was the perfect character to help tell Baby’s story. She brought depth to Baby’s character arc by showing how much he loved his mom and by also raising the film’s stakes. Her life would be the consequence if Baby failed.
Bats (Jamie Foxx)
I’m pretty sure this character got his name from being batshit crazy. This guy is the definition of the wild card…like wilder than Courtney Love kind of crazy. From the second he appears on screen you know that this is the guy that is going to be the major source of conflict in the film. At first I thought he was going to be the main antagonist but I’ll talk more on that later. Instead, his function in the overall story was to ignite the film’s conflict with Baby. Bats did this by 1) killing people on heists and 2) threatening Debora. By the way, how intense was that diner scene! I felt so tense during that scene because I didn’t want Bats figuring out that Debora was Baby’s girlfriend. Once Bats found out who she was, I felt even more tension because I couldn’t tell if he was going to shoot Debora or not just to get a reaction out of Baby. That kind of unpredictability is exactly what the film needed to bring me in and make me feel invested in the stakes.
Buddy (Jon Hamm)
Buddy is by far the most interesting villain in the story. He is a guy who loves his woman, loves to drive and loves music. Sound familiar? Yep, Buddy is who Baby will be if he doesn’t get out of crime. At first I hated how quickly Bats ate it (almost literally) because I thought he was going to be the ultimate villain due to his savage and unpredictable nature. Then I understood that Buddy was a better choice for the final villain because there was more at stake than whether or not Baby and Debora made it out alive. The stakes now included a villain that reminded me of who Baby could become even if Baby succeeded. As Baby became more and more viscous to kill Buddy, I couldn’t help but wonder if Baby would lose his good nature if he killed Buddy. Would overcoming his opposition turn him into the villain? Another reason I thought Buddy was a better villain is because I sympathized with Buddy. The entire film centered around Baby and Debora’s developing romance, which was very similar to Buddy and Darling. By developing Baby and Debora’s romance, I felt like I understood Buddy’s need for revenge just because their relationships were similar. That complexity brought an awesome character-driven dynamic to the conflict’s climax.