The Anticipated: Baby Driver

In All, Movies by David

Hello all! Things have not been right in the world of The Anticipated, but it is finally time for more–though at this point, these are going to be more looks at the recent past than of what has just come, so bear with me. Anyhow, next on the agenda is the one film I was truly sad to miss out watching at SXSW– Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Did this film end up living up to the hype and anticipation? Let’s find out.

Spoilers Ahead (Kind of)

Baby Driver (June 28th, 2017)

How was it? 

Umm… really good, but with some noticeable flaws. Let’s start with the positives. This movie is one of the most stylistically in-tune films I have ever seen. There is a perfect harmony between visual and audio experiences on screen, as this film is on its game from the jump. The film is edited to the soundtrack to fit with the mindset of the hero, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who uses music to counter his tinnitus. This creates a very unique film experience. Of course, if the substance of the film was subpar then these flourishes would be wasted, but luckily for the most part the film’s substance can at least be in the same room as its style without being embarrassed. A lot of this is due to the solid character work done in this film, especially from its side characters. The number one thing Baby Driver deserves credit for is being the first movie in quite some time to use John Hamm correctly–which really shouldn’t be that hard, but damn, his film career has been littered with roles that have no idea how to use him. Part of what helps here is that he is a side character, which allows him a bit more freedom in the the role than Hamm might be used to. The role allows Hamm to use his natural charisma without restraint, but in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the movie. He is allowed to be a dirtier version of the clean cut guy that a lot of films seemed convinced he should be playing. Hamm is a delight on screen as his character goes against every expectation.

This couple was truly the highlight of the movie.

This trend of going against expectations continues as a strength with Kevin Spacey’s Doc. Spacey manages to lend the right amount of menace and heart to a role that could have just been a straight villainous turn. (And, well, if anything reflects how much time has passed since this film came out, it is the fact that this may go down as the last role Spacey ever gets praise for again. His currently unreleased work may not be released, and for at least quite some time Spacey is probably uncastable, thanks to the recent allegations against him for sexual misconduct with young men.) Meanwhile, Jaimie Foxx’s Bats pulls off the feat of being a smart, crazy character that pretends to be far more unhinged than he actually is to catch people off guard. Then there is Eiza González’s Darling, who has fantastic chemistry with Hamm’s Buddy, and probably doesn’t get as much screen time as she should have had. These very different, equally strong supporting characters really add to the texture of the world Wright has created, and make this film really work, particularly when added to Elgort’s solid work as Baby.

Still, there are some pretty significant flaws in this movie. The biggest is the complete misuse of Lily James’s Debora. James has proven to be quite the adept performer in past roles, but the fact that she is basically forced to be a reactive character who really only exists to give Baby someone to fight for is a real bummer. She gets very little chance to show how she feels about what is happening in the movie, and while she proves charming, this character nonetheless ends up feeling like a real waste of potential, and highlights how Wright at times has really struggled with including dynamic female characters in his movies. Meanwhile, the ending of this film is just weird. On the one hand, it fits with the realism that exists in this film despite its highly stylized action: actions have consequences and, well, the simple truth is that if you get into a real prolonged car chase you are doomed. So I commend the movie for refusing to allow things to just work out perfectly in the end; but at the same time, the ending feels weird and off-putting, especially as the issues with Debora’s character culminate in some strange motivations in the final scenes of the film.

Isn’t this based on…?

Nothing, this is an original work, albeit one that liberally takes ideas from past films to create its action.

Did it warrant its selection in The Anticipated?

There are some issues with this film, but I am going to still say yes pretty confidently. Part of this is because this film may have experienced one of the most brutal and efficient media cycles I have ever seen. Just like an Oscar frontrunner, this film had some ups and downs in its public assessment, but instead of this happening over months it happened over only the three to five days after its release. At first this film got nothing but praise and was lauded as one the greatest things ever (yeah, a bit of an exaggeration). Then, as if an Oscar smear campaign had been run against it, immediately this film went through the wringer of criticism, as the people who didn’t like this movie really, really hated it, and said it was the worst thing ever (also a bit of an exaggeration). Then some sanity seemed to come back, as some people finally began to both praise and criticize it, but the battle lines had already been drawn: you were either pro-Baby Driver or you were against it. Once again, this happened in less than a week, which is nuts. If ever a film showcased how ridiculous the critical blender can get in Hollywood, Baby Driver is the one. This type of pop culture domination was immensely impressive, and set this film up as, if nothing else, something well worth talking about.

Even if so much goes actually wrong in the actual movie, with this cast you are golden.

More importantly, for the first time in his career, the buzz from an Edgar Wright film actually translated to box office success. This is the most successful film Wright has ever made, and finally gave him some of the mainstream recognition he has long deserved. The film’s relatively paltry 34 million dollar budget led to a 100 million dollar domestic box office and over $220 million worldwide. This proved once again that there is still a lot of upside in the modestly budgeted 25-75 million dollar movie that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood. There appears to be a real market inefficiency with these kind of films right now, and hopefully Baby Driver and films like it (such as La La Land, just to throw out a recent extraordinarily successful example) will inspire Hollywood to start giving films like this a shot again. These medium-sized movies can have the freedom and original of the low-budget movie without sacrificing visual clout to the strictures of a shoestring budget.  This is especially true if the film turns out to be a passion project for a solid director–something that looks to really be resonating with audiences lately. The upside for these films is high, and the downside is still relatively low, especially compared to the hundred million dollar monstrosities that seem to get made without any real second thought. Baby Driver proved to be a cultural touchstone this year, while also being a critical and financial success, making it a great film to highlight.

Would I recommend it to others?

Yes, this film is fun. Don’t expect it to be perfect, and just enjoy the marvelous action-packed ride.

How would I rate it?

If only you could have been allowed to do more in this film, Debora. Such a waste.

So, how do we rate this film, then? Baby Driver hits all the things one wants from a movie on this list. It is good, financially successful, and actually resonated culturally with the masses. That leads it scoring a 9 heart-pounding music tracks out of 10 on our handy anticipation meter. This is a really good movie, and deserves to be discussed for doing some truly creative things. Hopefully, now that the initial frenzy for the film is over, it can be discussed with a lot less hyperbole, and its merits and flaws can be examined without the strong emotions that followed its theatrical release.

For an actual rating: This is a bit tricky, but I think this film lands in the zone between 3.5 and 4 stars, so 3.75 out of 4 stars. This is a great movie whose strengths make me somewhat forgiving of its obvious flaws. It feels unique and worth celebrating for being something that only Edgar Wright could make, and also still being a competent, well-done film from all angles. The soundtrack is amazing, and this is the kind of movie that will offer you a non-stop thrill ride accompanied by some truly great performances to make it a satisfying and awesome experience.

That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. There are a lot of films to come, so stay tuned for what movie is coming next.

-David Robertson