If you’re looking for a “real” film, with everyday, relatable characters, don’t see “Baby Driver,” the latest from writer-director Edgar Wright. If you’re looking for a highly satisfying, “they don’t make ‘em like this” kind of film, then by all means see “Baby Driver.”
Baby (Ansel Elgort) doesn’t speak much. Living with permanent tinnitus following a childhood car accident, he’s constantly listening to music to drown out the ringing in his ears. The robbers Baby transports regard him with varying degrees of respect and antagonism.
Doc (Kevin Spacey), who forces Baby to work as a getaway driver as payment for a debt, considers the young man his lucky charm. The debt may be cleared, but there’s no way Doc’s letting Baby go.
Naturally, Baby has a heart of gold. He’s a devoted caregiver to foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), a deaf man. He’s charming to diner waitress Debora (Lily James), introducing her to the T. Rex song of the same name. He often dreams of his mother (Sky Ferreira), a singer who died in that fateful crash.
These aren’t the freshest story elements, but Wright presents them with confidence, ease and more than a little wit. The cast’s also in on the joke, it seems.
“Bacchanalia?” asks Darling (Eiza González) after boyfriend Buddy (Jon Hamm) proposes they celebrate a successful heist. “That’s the finest wining and dining of all the fine wining and dining.”
Later, Baby describes the restaurant to Debora in exactly the same way.
“You guys rob to support a drug habit,” Bats (Jamie Foxx) tells Darling and Buddy in the middle of what turns out to be a spot-on analysis and deconstruction of what makes crime appealing to them. “I do drugs to support a robbing habit.”
“He’s a chip off the old block,” Doc says with pride after his elementary-aged nephew Samm (Brogan Hall) reminds Baby of some crucial information about the next heist site.
Nobody attempts to make this dialogue sound natural. It’s not meant to sound that way. It’s meant to sound like a battle of wits among a collection of posturing, deeply unpleasant people.
“That’s one of No-Nose’s no-nos,” says No-Nose (Flea) once fellow robber JD (Lanny Joon) displeases him.
Baby and Debora’s conversations aren’t especially profound, either, but Elgort and James are equally committed to their sweet, pure-hearted characters. Baby and Debora are the kind of dreamy-eyed teens who look forward to driving off into the unknown without a care or a dollar to their name.
I’ve always been a fan of films where true love is presented as a victory, as something to be obtained after a deep, emotional journey. Baby and Debora take the journey in “Baby Driver,” facing off against a series of increasingly nightmarish foes.
For most of “Baby Driver,” Bats fills this role. If you’re like me, you begin wondering why Doc would put up with him for longer than one heist.
On the other hand, Bats’ flamboyant villainy is a great Trojan horse for the film’s real force to be reckoned with.
One of the film’s best scenes deals with a bank heist Bats pulls with No-Nose and JD. Anything that shouldn’t happen does, from the murder of guards to a Marine customer (Clay Donahue Fontenot) proving to be nearly as skilled and determined a driver as Baby.
Later in the film, Wright gets rid of the cars, having Baby, Buddy and Darling take to the streets of downtown Atlanta. The sequence is a triumph for Wright, the stunt performers and presumably choreographer Ryan Heffington.
Heffington makes his mark early in “Baby Driver.” Not only does Elgort begin the film with a confident lip sync to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms,” he moves with catlike ease to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” under the opening credits.
In its own way, “Baby Driver” is a more effective musical than “La La Land.” Both exist in a heightened, stylized world. “Baby Driver” even has a few original songs, which Baby creates from snippets of everyday conversation.
“You’re gonna be eating catfish dipped in gold,” Doc tells Baby, trying to sell him on his sky’s-the-limit attitude. “Baby Driver” should guarantee Wright won’t be creatively hungry for years to come.
Also in the cast are Hudson Meek as Young Baby, Jon Bernthal as Griff, Hal Whiteside as the cranky cook at Debora’s diner, Allison King as a friendly postal worker and ‘70s songwriter Paul Williams as “The Butcher.”
I give “Baby Driver” my Recommended rating.