30 June 2017

Baby Driver review

As far as elevator pitches go, "a car chase movie where the action is synced to its soundtrack" is a pretty great one, especially when it's coming from none other than Edgar Wright himself. As the man behind the brilliant Cornetto Trilogy and the still under-rated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it's clear that Wright is maybe the most inventive and original writer/director working today, and with a pitch that great I was sure that as with his previous films, his latest would be another film I'd love dearly - so why is it that Baby Driver left me cold?

It's something I've been pondering since leaving the cinema, and ultimately I think it comes down to a question of individual taste rather than objective quality. Baby Driver is just as tightly-crafted as any of Wright's previous movies, utilising his almost trademark fast-paced editing style in combination with a non-stop soundtrack and some neat choreography to create something that feels totally unique, stylistically - unfortunately, it's all in service of characters and a story that I simply couldn't force myself care about, and all the style in the world can't make up for that.

Baby Driver follows Baby, a young man who uses music to drown out his tinnitus as he works as a getaway driver in order to pay off a large debt to Doc, a criminal kingpin who caught Baby stealing his car many years ago. Baby is coming to the end of his payments to Doc, but his success as a getaway driver means that Doc is reluctant to let him go - that becomes a problem for Baby after he meets and falls for a young waitress named Deborah who, like Baby, wants nothing more than to hop in a car, turn up the music, and drive for as long as they can.

The biggest problem with this fairly straight forward narrative is that it relies on us caring about Baby and his relationship with Deborah without ever doing the work to make that happen. In truth, I was surprised by just how bland Baby is as a protagonist -  until now Wright's films have been full of vibrant, interesting characters with distinctive personalities, but Baby is little more than a generic, capable nice guy whose defining personality trait is that he likes music. Even with actor Ansel Elgort being as charming as possible, Baby's lack of depth and definable personality makes it difficult to really invest in the character, and as such the action sequences, while incredibly well-made on a technical level, lack the engagement and stakes that they could and should have had.

This Wright's first film as the sole credited writer, and I have to wonder if that has anything to do with Baby Driver's problems. His direction here is as brilliant as ever, but the script simply is neither as tight nor as funny as his previous movies, indicating to me that he could well be a writer that needs a partner to bounce ideas off, to riff with, in order to get the best results. That's not to say that Baby Driver isn't funny at times - there are multiple laugh-out loud moments in Baby Driver, including a great little scene where Baby "cases" a Post Office with an unlikely ally - but the magnitude and frequency of gags is a long way away from, say, Hot Fuzz, and that's only to the films detriment. Tonally, Baby Driver is very much a comedy for the vast majority of its runtime - it's just also one that seems to have forgotten to put in enough jokes to really sustain itself in between the action scenes.

All of which means that regardless of how well choreographed, directed, performed and edited the rest of Baby Driver is - and I can't stress enough just how truly special it is on technical level - it ultimately feels less like an actual movie with a story worth investing in and more like a collection of nifty music videos, which is funnily enough exactly where Wright first tried out the basic idea. In fairness to Baby Driver, I'm sure I'd like it more upon rewatching it free from the dizzying expectations I had going in - but for now, it's a film that I can only appreciate for it's craft rather than genuinely like, and as far as I'm concerned that makes it Wright's weakest film to date.

3 stars

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