**Spoilers for the movie ahead–turn your car around now if you have not seen it**
Immediately upon seeing previews for Edgar Wright’s movie Baby Driver, I thought three things: 1) ANSEL ELGORT AND LILY JAMES, 2) CAR CHASES, and 3) MUSIC. Three things that combined to have exponential potential to be one of the best movies of the year, and let me tell you, Baby Driver drove me crazy, baby. Almost as much as it drove my friend Rachel crazy when she learned that the theater we were at had Mr. Pibb.
Ansel Elgort – Baby
If the intense, brooding look in the photo doesn’t do it for you, then let me tell you right now that his charm will. I became a fan of Ansel Elgort after his on-point portrayal of Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, but this is a totally different role than I’ve ever seen him play. I thought that he communicated the dimension of Baby’s personality super well, and made it seamless for me to find him adorable, damaged, and completely badass all at the same time. I knew right away that I was going to love Elgort in this role as soon as the opening scene began, with him in the getaway car jamming by himself with his headphones in. Elgort basically did everything that we all do when we’re listening to music and think (and hope) that no one is watching. Wonderfully endearing. The endearment only increases during any and all scenes in which he interacts with his wheelchair-ridden, deaf foster father. Baby suffers from his own hearing issues (a constant hum/ringing in his head from a car accident as a child), so watching them communicate with sign language is beautiful and makes Baby a real person with something/someone to live for instead of a mindless criminal, which is honestly what the previews make him appear to be. I don’t even need to talk about watching him drive, rocking pair after pair of sunglasses (all of which look great on him), because let’s be real, that all speaks for itself. Overall, I thought Elgort was excellent, and he isn’t tough on the eyes, either.
Lily James – Debbie
As a fan of Lily James from her days on Downton Abbey, I was wildly excited to see her in a role that wasn’t as a wealthy, British socialite or as Cinderella. I have always seen her in fancy dresses, hair done up, looking like utter perfection. In this movie, she dons a charming southern accent (which was super well done for someone who is English), a diner waitress’ uniform, curly hair, and the air of a girl who just wants to escape the life she has made for herself. While I thought James’ acting was lovely, I thought the character herself lacked some backstory and dimension, which isn’t a fault of James but a fault of the writers. We end up knowing nothing about her own life or why it is that she wants to just drive down the highway with nothing but her music and no looking back. Are we supposed to just believe that this girl is openly willing to hop into a car with a guy she’s only just met to leave town with no explanations as to why? Why is music so important to her? We know that it’s important to Baby because his late mother was a musician, but we lack that aspect of Baby and Debbie’s connection. When people are brought together through music, that underlying reason of its importance to the person only strengthens the connection between them, and I thought that was missing from this love story. Quite honestly, it’s one of my only real gripes about the movie. Debbie gets pulled into Baby’s world, but we get no look into her world. I know that her world isn’t meant to be the focus of the movie, but come on! Give my girl Debbie a little depth, Wright.
Kevin Spacey – Doc
Everyone knows that Kevin Spacey is no stranger to being the mastermind, the bad guy, or the villain, so it won’t surprise anyone that he is excellent in this role. As Baby’s boss, Doc arranges all of the heists and hires the team. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Spacey do poorly on screen (though I haven’t seen every movie he’s ever been in), and I think his veteran status in Hollywood speaks for itself, here. As a character, I thought Doc was just another heartless criminal, but I liked that upon seeing Baby with Debbie his heart pulled a “Grinch” and grew three sizes that day and he chooses to help them–and, ya know, takes a shotgun to the back for them. He does this all because he knows what it means to be in love with someone. I was glad to see a redeeming quality in Doc before his time on screen ended, especially after seeing that his eight-year-old nephew knows fully well what his uncle is up to and treats it as nonchalantly as his uncle does, which made me really hate Doc at first. It showed that somewhere, deep down, Doc cares for Baby, even though he does not want to admit it and ruin his persona.
Jamie Foxx – Bats
You know those characters that are so detestable, despicable, and infuriating that you can’t help but love them for their horribleness? That is Jamie Foxx in this movie, and he did a ridiculously good job making Bats the most hated character in the group. For anyone who watches Game of Thrones, think of Bats as the Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger of the group; someone who is so good at being bad that you admire his weasel-like ways while simultaneously hoping he catches the next bullet. As his name implies, Bats is a little/lot batshit crazy, and Foxx plays it so coolly that you almost believe he may be sane until he, well, acts the opposite. Foxx flipped the switch between calm/collected and off-his-rocker in split seconds, and I lived for the moments where he lost his cool. I think Foxx was perfect for this role, and I was beyond pleased with his performance.
Jon Hamm – Buddy
I, personally, have not seen Jon Hamm in anything memorable, but like Jamie Foxx, he played the character on the verge of insanity well. At one point, Bats says something to Buddy and his girl, Darling, about why they rob banks: “You guys rob banks to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit.” So, we know that Buddy is into some illegal substances, which implies that he may not always be 100% able to control himself. And sure enough, we get to see Buddy get pushed over the edge when Darling gets shot and killed in their last heist. His confrontation with Baby (who he blames for the death of Darling) was akin to Jack Torrence coming after his wife in The Shining, except instead of wielding an ax, he is driving a cop car (intended as his weapon to run Baby over) and blasting what he knows is Baby’s lucky song. Before they head out on a heist, Baby shares with Buddy that “Brighton Rock” by Queen is his lucky song in a moment where we almost think that Buddy might not be that bad of a guy. Buddy blasts the song over the cop car’s speakers in what he hopes is a poetic and cathartic moment for himself, hoping to see Baby die to the tune of the song that has brought him luck in the past. Like Foxx, the coolness that Hamm exhibits with a character who is definitely about to snap is really well-communicated and I loved to hate him, too.
Eiza Gonzalez – Darling
If there’s one thing that Eiza Gonzalez lives up to, it’s her character’s name: Darling. But for me, that’s really the only thing that she did for me. I thought out of all of the acting in the film, hers just didn’t match up to the rest of this all-star cast. Her character is blatantly there for the sex appeal, given her constant makeouts and suggestive conversations with Buddy about what they’ll do together after each heist is over. I know that the character’s function wasn’t Gonzalez’s choice, so again, this is a fault that I attribute to the writers. But the way that Gonzalez chooses to deliver her lines is a bit cheesy, and a majority of the time, it looks like she’s trying too hard to match the insanity of her co-stars. At one point she tries to tell Bats that he knows nothing about hers and Buddy’s life, but I couldn’t help but not care because I just didn’t find her character’s level of “crazy” as convincing as Hamm and Foxx. It’s intended to sound intense, but I found it as laughable as Bats does in the scene. The only line that I liked her delivery of is when she says, “When Buddy sees red, you’ll see nothing but black.” It may be an unpopular opinion, but she just didn’t do it for me compared to all of the other actors in this movie. She tried to portray herself as a force to be reckoned with, but I just saw her as more of a force to not take seriously, which is always a shame to see when it comes to female characters.
With my only real issues being the female characters in the film, I thought that literally everything else was top notch.
Let’s start with the soundtrack. My GOD, I thought that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I had won the soundtrack battle for me, but this movie may have taken its place. The tracks chosen by Baby throughout the movie combine effortlessly with each scene, and give the movie a Starsky and Hutch-like vibe at times. Baby would go from funk to rock to hip-hop, and each one creates a distinctive mood within each scene throughout the whole film.
Secondly, I absolutely adored the fact that this movie felt like it was skipping around between the 1950s/60s/70s, both in the dressing of each scene and the dialogue/choreography. Baby and his foster father’s apartment has a clearly 70s vibe, as do some of the cars that Baby drives, but the diner at which Debbie works is clearly a tribute to diners of the 50s. Combine these scenes with the music choices, and you’re time traveling through various film eras from scene to scene. There’s quite a bit of dialogue throughout the film that echoes the writing from 50s films and gives this movie a charming, old-time feel at certain points, especially the scenes between Baby and Debbie. James adopts an airy, southern hybrid of the Transatlantic accent in some moments, which teleported me back to the era of Audrey Hepburn. As a lover of 1950s Hollywood/cinema, this is a particular aspect that made me all giddy inside. The choreography during the scenes in which Baby goes to pick up coffee for the teams parallels that of Gene Kelly. Granted, Elgort’s not dancing like Kelly was and they weren’t actual choreographed dance/tap numbers, but Elgort’s head-in-the-clouds movements, dancing from streetlight to streetlight had a very Singin’ in the Rain energy to it.
As I said before, the car chases and getaway scenes speak for themselves. While I have watched many a movie containing car chases, what I liked about this movie in particular is that each car chase scene is unique, and they each contribute to just how good Baby is at his job. He starts his first chase in a stick shift Subaru, drifting around corners and hopping medians, and then switches to everything from giant SUVs, sedans, and compact cars. And yes, he knows how to kick ass and make a getaway in all of them. Something unexpected happens in each one, which is refreshing to see after how many cookie-cutter car chases have zoomed throughout the history of cinema.
There are tons of movies about bank robberies, getaway cars/drivers, car chases, and criminals, but I think Baby Driver remains an original in the gamut of crime movies. We sympathize with Baby, we root for Baby, and we admire Baby’s devotion to his foster father and late mother. But most of all, the element of music being thrown into the mix is what makes this movie stand out from the others, as well as Wright’s attention to detail and cinematography. I especially loved the first time Baby goes to get coffee, and as the camera pans along with him dancing down the sidewalk, single words from the song playing are written on telephone poles, streetlights, and windows, appearing on cue with when the word is sung. It reminded me of some of the great, small detail work in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, another one of Wright’s movies.
Bottom line is, you do not want to miss this movie. It is the most original, nerve-wracking, exciting, and entertaining story I have seen in years.