Movie Review: Baby Driver
Ansel Elgort takes the wheel for a generation as Baby, a brilliant getaway driver looking to recapture a bit of the past in Edgar Wright’s seductive, three-ply retread
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Berthal, Eiza Gonzalez
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Running time: 1 hr 53 mins
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
Is it a heist movie? A romance? Auto porno? Edgar Wright’s buzz-worthy Baby Driver is a pimped out mixture of all three, guaranteeing a sweet summer ride. Yet, what makes this lighter take on Nicolas Refn’s Drive feel a little bit different from The Fasters and the Furiousers, the Bullitts and the Transporters is its unmistakable millennial tone.
Our central hero is Baby. He’s played by 23-year-old DJ-actor-heartthrob Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars), and he drives. Baby drives fast. He drives so fast, he’s the number one choice for all of Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) illegal jobs that demand a fast getaway, namely, robbing banks. We get a sample of his skills in the opening scene as Baby eludes police in a high speed pursuit through the streets of Atlanta.
There are no gigantic explosions. No vehicles falling from airplanes. Just screeching tires, donuts, drifting and weaving through oncoming traffic. In other words: An old-fashioned car chase.
Turns out these poor examples of road safety still make the best action sequences in the world of moving pictures. They’re accessible to everyone. We may not know what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL or an astronaut, but we all know what it’s like to be behind a wheel. Or at least be in a car, so when Baby drives, we’re riding shotgun all the way.
It’s an easy place to develop sympathy, but Baby isn’t the most accessible character when we meet him. He hides behind a pair of sunglasses, listens to his iPod all day long and seems a little aloof to the point of being cocky.
It’s the same self-assurance Tom Cruise wore with his Wayfarers in Risky Business — a lot of braggadocio tinted by a lingering fear of zits. In millennial-speak, he’s all humblebrag, which feels like a natural stance for Elgort — a guy who studied ballet and grew up in the heart of Manhattan’s art scene, but remixes Lana del Rey and opened for the Chainsmokers.
Indeed, there’s an age-appropriate degree of ‘meta’ in the whole performance, given Elgort — a singer, dancer and DJ — also manifests these talents as Baby. It’s the Risky Business wink: A subversive little gesture delivered with charm. Only in true millennial fashion, the wink isn’t literal. It’s implied through a variety of reflective devices that quietly wink with us.
Hollywood references litter the highway. Half-digested chunks of coming-of-age dramas lie next to batter-fried banter from Oceans Eleven. We’ve consumed most of this scenery before, and we’ve certainly watched Kevin Spacey play the role of a scheming, yet oddly personable, villain more than once.
Writer-director Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) doesn’t apologize for any of it. He embraces every familiar whiff and strokes every reference because it actually serves the film’s underlying dramatic theme. We can’t un-see what we have seen. The only thing we can really do is remix the scraps and samples of past moments in a bid to exercise some control, and phrase them to our own beat. Baby does this throughout the movie with taped recordings of everyday events. And Wright does this with the whole film.
The film’s self-awareness, and its knowledge of where it fits in pop culture, is part of what I perceive to be a millennial perspective. The other part goes back to that implied wink. Tom Cruise’s one closed eye defined the ‘80s as a smirking nod to commerce and a cute but willful blindness to morality.
Baby Driver winks at that obsession with money and power, without actually winking at all. The film’s palpably sincere heart saves it from being smarmy, and Wright’s direction keeps the emotional arcs predictable, but pure.
Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx keep things as interesting as the older, cynical X-ers. Money-minded Spacey is the embodiment of the believing Boomers, and Elgort becomes heir to The Graduate’s Benjamin, Risky Business’ Joel, and Ryan Gosling in Drive as he drag races destiny in a bid to shape his own future — behind the wheel of a Subaru Impreza.
He’s the earbud-plugged Zeitgeist. A millennial man of action, comfortable in his own sexuality and unafraid to sing his own song out loud. Literally. Call him Baby Driver….
THE EX-PRESS.COM, June 28, 2017
Read Katherine Monk’s Movie Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and right here in the Ex-Press archive.