As a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s films, I was positively excited for the release of Baby Driver. After the zombie rom-com, the buddy cop whodunnit, the pub crawl from outer space and the video-game come alive, Wright had seemingly concocted his coolest mash-up yet: A car chase-heist-musical.
What seemed like such a natural fit for Wright’s sensibilities falls short of reaching the heights of his previous four films. Baby Driver has been a long gestating project, going back to the early 1990s, and the script, Wright’s first solo screenwriting credit, is unfocused, failing to propel the story forward. In the fast-paced, kinetic world of cars and bank robbers that Baby Driver sets up, the story starts and stalls too many times to keep the momentum going, and by the time we reach act three, the film has bogged itself down almost irrecoverably. Almost.
Because when Baby moves, it MOVES. Wright is known for ingenious, fast-paced visual storytelling, with remarkable sound and music design, but this film takes his directing style to another level. Baby Driver is the first film where the auteur has reverse engineered a soundtrack and actually made it into a film; imagine the best trailer, where the images, the music and the sound are working in perfect, cathartic harmony, timed to the millisecond. Now imagine a feature length version of that trailer; that’s Baby Driver. Not only are the action scenes and car chases visually playful and innovative, but every shot, every cut, has been designed to fit the constant soundtrack that plays throughout the film in a breathtaking way. But maybe that’s part of the problem.
Wright’s films have always been about style, but that style always served the underlying substance, the beating heart. In Shaun of the Dead, we cared about Shaun, Ed and the ensemble of supporting characters; it also didn’t hurt that the film was very funny. In Baby Driver, a more straight-up drama, Baby (B-A-B-Y), the titular character, is a footnote we never get to read, lost in the grand orchestration happening around him, while the supporting cast are just food coloring sprinkled on top. It is worth noting, however, that Wright’s action scenes do come up with revelatory character beats, something most action films fail to do.
Baby Driver ends up being an odd divorce between laser-focused action direction and the messy storytelling that surrounds it. It’s a shame that Wright’s newest never manages to tie it all together, because this could have been a small pop masterpiece.
- Bernardo Leyte