Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: A…*ahem*...and I’m Rob DiCristino. Edgar Wright’s latest film is Baby Driver, the story of a skilled and stylish wheelman (Ansel Elgort) whose every waking moment comes with a soundtrack. Baby can't drive, walk, or perform basic functions without the right track, leaving him perpetually ear-budded and head-bobbing. He drives for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the local criminal mastermind who once caught Baby stealing, and insists he work off the debt one heist at a time. Though Baby doesn’t think of himself as a criminal, both he and his foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) know that too much time spent in the company of crooks like Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) could drag him down forever. When Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a beautiful waitress with a beautiful voice, he finally commits to getting out for good.
Adam: In this clip, Baby demonstrates to the crew of the next score that he’s a prodigy and cooler in crime than his more jittery counterparts, who all want to act like they’re the primo badass. It provides an escalating tension to the action sequences throughout the film.
While everyone should be super thankful to have a skilled driver like Baby at their disposal, his criminal peers are actively pissed he’s not flinching at them -- sometimes even literally. These “break down the heist” planning scenes are fun. They reminded me of a riff on Reservoir Dogs’ moments where Joe (played in that film by Lawrence Tierney) sets up the next score. Kevin Spacey is great in these scenes, showing a playfulness that reminded me of his performances from the ‘90s like Glengarry Glen Ross, where he really seemed to relish having good dialogue to chew on. He looks energized to be working around artists as talented as the ones in Baby Driver. It’s my favorite film performance of his in a long time.
Rob: I want to start by saying that Edgar Wright is my favorite filmmaker. He makes movies the way they ought to be made — every shot, line, and sound matters. He’s one of the only modern directors who understands visual comedy and the power of precisely-scripted dialogue that talks up to an audience instead of down. His jokes have set-ups, pay-offs, and a true rhythm. He understands genre, especially when and how to use specific conventions to serve a narrative. More than that, he understands characters and their arcs. His characters have inside stories and outside stories. Together with Simon Pegg, he’s written three stone-cold classics driven by complicated and interesting people moving through the narrative and learning from it in meaningful ways. He adapted Scott Pilgrim and somehow perfected the video game movie. I’ve spent hours picking apart all the details and finding new meaning in moments I thought I knew by heart. I’ve used scenes and script pages as teaching tools. His movies feel like they were made just for me, and I love them dearly.
Fury Road). They just don’t here and it breaks my heart.
Adam: Eh, well. I’m voting Mark Ahn. What do you want to review next week?
Just kidding. I’m a really big Edgar Wright fan, too. I think I had a much better time with Baby Driver than you did. I don’t disagree with you that the dialogue and characterization take a back seat (no pun intended) this time when compared to his other films, but that didn’t bug me. Baby Driver felt to me like when Quentin Tarantino made Kill Bill Vol. 1 and we saw an evolution of a director. As you said already, this is Edgar Wright out of his comfort zone, I think, in that he’s really elevating his game as an action filmmaker. I thought the action sequences, whether in a car or on foot, were very well shot and choreographed, giving me as a viewer spatial clarity of what was happening. Question for you: looking outside of this being an Edgar Wright movie, if this was just an action movie, would you think it was an above average example?
Rob: For sure, and I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t have fun with Baby Driver or that I won’t be seeing it again or buying the Blu on release day. I will be doing those things. I totally agree that this is Wright evolving as an action director; the movie looks great and moves even better. It’s at times loud and aggressive, slow and dreamy, and always very, very cool. But one of the things I find very telling is that this is Wright’s first solo screenwriting credit, and I wonder if that lack of oversight and collaboration allowed his director brain to override his writer brain a bit. In that case, this might be the purest Edgar Wright film possible, and that’s great! But it lacks the things I find really appealing about his films. That’s just me.
What I didn’t love about Baby Driver (and I feel personally silly for pointing some of these out and I wouldn’t if we weren’t reviewing the movie because it doesn’t really affect my appreciation of Baby Driver) is some of the characterization. I get that we’re largely playing with archetypes, but there are some major internal logic gaps happening with the Deborah character in particular, who apparently has no friends or hesitation to get involved in Baby’s increasingly dangerous hijinks. It’s a credit to actress Lily James (who plays Deborah) that she’s so loveable and has such good chemistry with Ansel Elgort that I was totally in on them wanting to ride off into the sunset together. I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that if this film came out in the ‘80s, I could see Elisabeth Shue in this role and a Matthew Modine type in the role of Baby. Other than that, I thought Jon Hamm has some trouble selling his ultimate badass portion at the end, but he was really good before that at being charming but also someone you might want to avoid. Lastly, I wasn’t crazy about the foster father character that seemed like, I dunno, a weird construct that would have been a dumb idea even twenty years ago. Those scenes didn’t do anything for me.
The World’s End and you’ll find that they pay off character arcs that were built tirelessly throughout the film. Again, these are my personal hangups. My standards for Wright are just too damn high.
And speaking to your feeling of visceral excitement — that’s what I wanted! I wanted it so badly that I was sitting up in my seat as soon as the titles began, eyes peeled and ready to track over every single frame. But with a few exceptions, I never really got there with it, and it’s almost entirely due to the character issues I spoke to earlier. They robbed the action of true propulsion.
Adam: I figured Baby went to Doc to get his tape back and also to try to make a truce rather than worrying about Doc going after him and Deborah, but I see your point. I think Doc helped because Baby was (just like his nephew) a chip off the old block? Someone he had grown to care about somewhat? But, again, I am reaching a little because I want to make excuses for the movie not being perfect.
Since we’re on characters and performances, I want to cover the rest of the main crew and see what you thought of them. Eiza Gonzalez is fun as Darling. She looks great and can sell the dialogue well. I wish Jon Bernthal were in more of the movie (he would have been a better final bad than Hamm, I think). I loved that his last line was (paraphrasing) “If you never see me again, that means I’m dead,” and then we never see him again. Makes me wonder if he got taken out for some reason by Doc??? Just a fun little detail. Ansel Elgort is an actor I defend. I think he has a great physicality to him in action scenes (e.g. running across tables in the “Hocus Pocus” chase) and he’s an unconventional lead for this type of film in a fun way. He’s a really terrific romantic lead (he was in The Fault in Our Stars also) and that goes a long way in getting me to care about Baby. Does he sell the macho or cool guy moments? No, but they can’t all be Gosling.
My favorite performances in the movie were Paul Williams (that’s a cheat, though, because he’s only in one scene - but what a welcome surprise) and Jamie Foxx, who I found legit scary in this movie in a way I’ve never thought of him before. The part where he throws the box of gum at Jon Hamm was so jarring to me because at first I was just thinking he would put someone down that got in his way in a criminal code type of manner, but with the gas station attendant it totally fueled how much danger Deborah was in when Bats, Baby, Darling and Buddy went into the diner she worked at later on. I was so relieved when Foxx’s Bats got killed off (to an amazing Blur song, which should have been Baby’s “killer track” imho) and that’s a testament to a movie having a great villain. I loved that Bats’ whole thing was to be a force of opposition to anything and everything. It didn’t matter who you were or what you liked. It was stupid and he hated you. It gave me the creeps in a good way.
Rob: Lots to unpack here. I felt that the first two heists could have been combined for pacing, and I think Bernthal and Foxx’s characters could have been merged for similar reasons (though I do like them both a lot). Their loud-mouth posturing is meant, like you said earlier, to contrast with Baby’s easy confidence, but since we’re constantly hearing people talk about Baby instead of seeing Baby do things on his own, their fire lost some of its heat (pun intended). It all became noise after a while. Elgort is fine; he sold that first moment where he’s singing “Bellbottoms,” so I was with him. Hamm and Gonzalez were both a lot of fun, and I think more moments like the one where Buddy and Baby are building a bond through Queen could have given their turn against each other a little more weight. I would have liked to have understood how Baby felt about these people. But, alas.
Rob: That’s something I’m really going to look at on my next viewing. My honest answer right now is that I don’t care one way or another. I was out of the movie at that point. I’m going to go with it being reality, but I really wish the film had ended when he put his hand against the speaker so he could hear the music in the car. Everything else (again, on first viewing) felt superfluous. But again, I look forward to picking it apart next time and seeing all those little details I didn’t pick up on this time.
Adam: Were you rushing out of the theater to catch a second viewing of The Mummy?
Rob: You know what I meant! Oh god, The Mummy was a real movie that happened! I completely forgot. I want to go back on break.
Adam: Don’t go back on break so soon. We’re reviewing The Big Sick next week. And I’ve seen it already. It’s good. I’m voting Mark Ahn for Baby Driver. I like the way it makes me feel. It makes me happy and I want all the happy that I can get in 2017. I would currently rank it as my third favorite Edgar Wright movie after Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, but I like all of his movies from Shaun onward. What’s your vote? I’m on pins and needles.
Rob: I’m voting Mark Ahn. Baby Driver is a very fun movie. It’s just not what I was expecting.
Adam: It’s great to have you back, bud. Sorry the movie didn’t click for you as much as you wanted. Did you see Okja yet on Netflix? I watched it and then immediately wrote the review. Never done that before. Never will do that again :-) I’m actively disappointed though you missed All Eyez on Me. I think your head might have exploded. I can embrace crap better than you can, I’m learning. #JusticeFor2PacandMercer
Rob: Haven’t seen Okja yet, but I’ll get on it this week. All Eyez on Me will be a Redbox movie for me, so I’ll get back to you then. Sorry I couldn’t get in on your Baby Driver love fest. It’s all I wanted for both of us. All in all, though, it’s great to be back. I’m really excited for The Big Sick. So, until then…
Adam: These seats are reserved.