There are people in the world who put on music simply to fill the silence. There are people in this world who drive simply to get where they need to go. Then there are those whose music expresses the very sounds in their soul…and who drive to feel freedom, adventure, and possibilities.
Edgar Wright’s latest film is dedicated to that second sort of person.
Baby Driver is about a young man named Baby (Ansel Elgort). As a boy, Baby was in a car accident that took both his parents, and ever since then, he has kept an iPod on with at least one earbud in at all times. It helps him block out the tinnitus he still suffers…and also locks him in as one of the best getaway drivers you could imagine.
His skills behind the wheel are at the beck and call of a man named Doc (Kevin Spacey). As a boy, Baby boosted Doc’s car and made off with a lot of money. Doc didn’t hurt or kill the kid; he simply started making him work off his debt. Doc could see just how talented the kid was, and wasn’t going to let such talent go to waste.
As the film begins, we watch Baby take the wheel for two separate heists.
One has him working with a bunch of pros named Buddy, Darling, and Griff (Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Jon Bernthal respectively). The second job has him surrounded by a more thuggish team headed up by Bats (Jamie Foxx). That heist goes sideways, but is ultimately successful – leading Baby to think he’s square with Doc and “out”.
No such luck.
Doc tasks Baby with driving yet again – this time working with Buddy and Darling again, with Bats sitting in as the third. To say that these kids have trouble playing nice with each-other would be putting things mildly, but Baby still tries valiantly to do his part.
Probably because in the background there’s Deborah (Lily James). Baby first comes across her at the diner he frequents and is instantly smitten. She takes an equal shining to him in that girl-meets-boy sorta way, and before you know it, they’re sharing earbuds.
When one considers a story featuring a character with one earbud in at all times, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that music is key to the tale. What’s more, when one remembers that the film is being told by director Edgar Wright, it should come as absolutely no surprise. Wright has a knack of timing both the massive and the mundane to the tempo of his track list – and Baby Driver does that on steroids.
It’s charming, in its way. Letting us not only experience the world through the eyes (or ears) of Baby, but of anyone who loves music and measure time by songs. At times, it makes some truly horrible people seem a little bit cooler. Other times, it makes a simple coffee run into something joyful.
Have you ever been walking down the street, listening to a song you love and noticed that the paces start matching the song? Baby Driver does that over and over…and every time, it fills the audience with that same joyful feeling.
None of this would work if we didn’t buy Ansel as Baby. The very concept of a kid who always has to have one earbud in pretty much begs the audience to roll its eyes. Seriously – if such a person worked in your office, you would be talking about them at the water cooler in record time. With Baby, though, we don’t just endure the quirk – we embrace it. Perhaps it’s because we can see that he doesn’t really belong in the world of these hoodlums. Perhaps it’s because we sense his shyness about his dependence on the tunes. Or perhaps it’s because he’s just so darned cute.
Whatever the reason, we fall for him – much the same way Deborah does. We trust him to get us where we’re going, and we want to know what he’s listening to.
While much of Baby Driver is a heist movie, it’s this sweetness at its core that makes it seem so fresh. After all, it’s not the first film to choreograph its scenes so carefully, nor the first film to make the audience hear its musical heartbeat. It is, however, one of the few films that wants us to pay attention to the desires we feel in the presence of someone wonderful, with nothing but possibilities before us.
There are a lot of romantic notions about driving that Baby Driver still holds dear. That wonderful recipe of the open road, a classic car, that special person sitting shotgun, and the perfect song on the radio is a brew this film drinks deeply from. Depending on your point of view though, these desires might seem honey-coated or completely absurd. After all, what sense does escape on the open road make if it is only escaping from…not escaping to?
That’s the funny thing though about getting caught up in the caper and the chorus; sometimes we stop caring whether we are running towards or running away. Sometimes those notes and those rhythms can just make our feet start moving, and force our fingers to tap in time. Baby Driver wants us to be bad and get lost, and if we have to break a few rules to do that – so be it.
[Ryan McNeil is an occasional guest on the Rowthree Cinecast, and runs his own corner of the interwebs over at TheMatinee.ca.]