Do you like good music and cool car chases? If so, you will probably find something to like in Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s new spring-loaded rock ‘n roll heist flick.
My colleague Gita Jackson and I handbrake-spun into theaters after the movie came out last week, and decided we’d sit down afterward and talk about it. Push in your earbuds and let’s do this thing.
Kirk Hamilton: [puts on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion]
Gita Jackson: Kirk, right now I want to tell you about the fabulous, most groovy…. bellbottoms.
Kirk: Are they made out of… Kashmere? And worn by a girl named… Debra? Or maybe Debora?
Gita: You can do the Harlem Shuffle in them, that’s for sure.
Kirk: I’ll do that while I drink my Tequila, Early in the Morning. Know How? Hocus Pocus, that’s how.
Gita: Perfect! Now we don’t ever have to make this joke ever again.
Kirk: I have the playlist on right now and was like, hmm, how long are we gonna keep this up?
Gita: I actually bought the playlist right after I saw the movie. What we are talking about, gentle readers, is the new flick from cult director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver, a movie that has been out a week and that I have seen three times.
Kirk: I have only seen it once. I think I probably need to see it again. It’s one of those movies where there’s a lot going on, but also not very much at all? If that makes sense.
Gita: Makes perfect sense. Baby Driver is a bare-bones skeleton that Wright uses to hang his good-ass car chases on. You could sum up the entire plot in a sentence: good kid gets into trouble and then gets out of it again. But it’s a really dense, choreographed movie, like all of Wright’s work.
Kirk: Right. I liked some parts of the movie more than others, at least on first viewing, but I don’t mean “not very much going on” as a bad thing. It’s just: it’s a heist movie. You’ve seen it a million times. It’s a vessel for Edgar Wright and the rest of his crew to do a bunch of cool, creative shit. Which they totally do.
Gita: This movie really got me in the first two scenes. The first one is a car chase set to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The other is a tracking shot of main character Baby going out to get coffee while listening to some sweet jams.
Kirk: That tracking shot! I was falling out of my seat.
Gita: Did you see all the grafitti?
Kirk: I was so into the whole thing that I’m sure I missed like a hundred details. What was it?
Gita: As Baby walks down the street, the grafitti in the background are the lyrics to the song he’s singing.
Kirk: Ah, yeah, I caught some of that during that sequence.
Gita: It kinda sets up how music is used throughout the movie—as a device to highlight Baby’s emotional state. My favorite instance of that is when Baby’s In Trouble and a characters starts singing Nowhere To Run by Martha and the Vandellas.
Kirk: I bet there’s a lot of that kind of thing I missed as the film went on. That credits sequence where he gets coffee - it really set up a lot of the film’s rhythms, didn’t it?
Gita: Yeah! I liked how it vaguely follows the arc of the movie. Baby has fun on his way to get coffee, but on his way back he’s paranoid, surrounded by police. It also sets up the dynamic of Baby versus the rest of the crew he’s with. They’re all hardened criminals. Baby just wants to drive fast and listen to music. He’s their coffee guy.
Kirk: I hadn’t even considered that about how he sees the cops on the way back, how that kinda captures how the film grows darker and more paranoid in the back half. I said earlier that I want to rewatch the movie, and that’s why. For such a straightforward movie, my reaction was actually less straightforward than I was expecting.
My initial thoughts, walking out of the theater, were that I loved the first half and didn’t love the second half as much. I still feel that way, more or less. I thought the film stalled a bit after the second heist, but not because it slowed down. I actually thought it lost some mojo because it didn’t slow down enough, or more specifically, because it didn’t slow down in the right places or the right ways.
But then I think back to Wright’s Hot Fuzz, and I remember having a similarly jumbled reaction the first time I saw that movie. Subsequent viewings of Hot Fuzz have put it among my favorite movies of all time, an opinion I’ve chronicled in depth on this very website.
Edgar Wright’s films are so rich and detailed—I’m assuming you started noticing a lot more layered stuff like that on subsequent viewings?
Gita: Oh yeah—my growing obsession with this movie had a lot to do with seeing how the music interplays with the plot, and how it’s used as cues to set up action. It’s something that Wright has done a LOT. There’s the jukebox fight scene in Shaun of the Dead, the tracking shot set to The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society in Hot Fuzz, and the repeated use of Sisters of Mercy as a musical sting in The World’s End (maybe my favorite music joke in all of Wright’s work). But this is a movie based entirely on that concept.
When I went back for repeat viewings, I understood more deeply how the songs on the soundtrack not only relate to Baby’s plight in an abstract way, but often a very, very literal way. I was watching an interview with Wright and Ansel Elgort, who plays Baby, and apparently Wright packaged the script for him in an app that would play the songs from the soundtrack when they were supposed to appear in the movie itself.
Kirk: Oh, that’s cool. It’s interesting how this movie fits into Wright’s overall filmography, right? I immediately felt his longtime collaborator Simon Pegg’s absence when it came to the script—Baby Driver’s dialogue was nowhere near as dense as its audio-visual milieu. I love a good Hot Fuzz triple-callback dialogue joke, but on the other hand, this movie’s script got out of the way of the action a lot of the time. It made for a more direct film, especially as the stakes got higher and the action got more intense. Noticeably different from earlier Wright/Pegg stuff.
Gita: If this had been a silent movie, I would not have noticed at all. It’s barely got a script in terms of dialogue. But it’s also not a comedy, and Pegg is a comedian. He writes comedy scripts. Much as I love when Pegg, Nick Frost and Wright all work together, I had this horrible fear of the three of them being forced into a nerd movie ghetto, ne’er to emerge. Seeing Wright do a more pure action movie rather than say, Ant-Man, was nice in that regard. Less chuckle yucks, but hopefully next time he wants to do a movie it won’t be as hard of a sell.
Kirk: The more I read about Baby Driver, the more I realize that it’s more of a personal film for Wright than I’d picked up on in the theater. It actually seems personal in a way that the Cornetto films probably aren’t, overall. For example: I hadn’t been aware of that 2003 Mint Royale video Wright directed, which he basically recreates during Baby’s opening lip-sync dance in the car.
I cracked up when I finally watched it yesterday, after seeing the movie. So, Baby Driver has that element of a homecoming to it. It’s Edgar Wright doing his own thing, which is something I really like, just in general. When a creative person who’s been successful in a very specific way puts that down for a bit and follows their own personal north star. There’s a feeling of freedom in it.
Gita: Oh! So glad you mentioned the Mint Royale video. It’s so, so good.
Kirk: Isn’t it? I loved it. The shot of the guys entering the bank in the rearview mirror, with the bank name reversed. The bird poop. And so on.
Gita: Noel Fielding’s dancing always gets me. When he does the Vogue, magazine cover posing thing.
Kirk: Extra good.
Gita: Baby Driver does seem to be a statement of purpose to Wright in some ways. He’s upfront about having wanted to make this since we was 21. He’s 43 now, so that’s over two decades of a really good idea swimming around in his head. The movie has some imperfections—it lacks the emotional core of The Word’s End, which was a story that really nailed the distinct pain of growing older. But I liked seeing Wright do something that was one pure genre that is just perfect on a technical level, rather than his collaborative works, which are more experimental. His older work is a bit more more exciting because he’s trying lots of new things, and I do miss that kind of bravery here. But this is also one of the best original concept movies I have seen in a long, long time.
And because it’s Wright on his own, we now get a clear sense of who he is as a filmmaker and what he values. He’s a guy who likes whip pans and crash zooms, great tunes, and stylized action, and isn’t afraid of kitsch and pastiche. He’s also got a real eye for visual storytelling that is noticeable but doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s just showing off. You watch this movie and know what movies he likes and wants to emulate. What’s amazing about it is that it all feels new, as opposed to say, when Tarantino just wants to show off how many movies he’s seen.
Kirk: Ha. I do also like Tarantino’s version(s) of this movie—the pulpy template that he fills in with his own shit—but that’s probably a subject for a different chat. There are a hundred other things we could talk about—that beautiful laundromat, the tequila gunfight, Baby miming along with Dave Brubeck while Kevin Spacey silently talks through the heist plan—argh, we could be here all day.
What about casting? I actually didn’t love Jon Hamm in this. Something about his screen presence wasn’t right for the role, I thought. They dirtied him up as best they could, and even invented a backstory for why he looks like a Rolex magazine model. But you can only scuff that dude up so much. Were you a Hamm-fan?
Gita: Well, I like my men either Horny or covered in blood, and those were his two default states in this movie. So yeah, it worked for me.
Kirk: Fair enough.
Gita: Jamie Foxx, however, was the real standout. That guy was having a blast being a complete piece of shit.
Kirk: I did like Jamie Foxx. I also think “Bats” is a really good nickname.
Gita: They spent the whole movie calling him Bats and at no point did I think of Batman, which is pretty remarkable!
Kirk: Some good name stuff in this movie overall, I thought. The whole thing with Moniker and Monica made me chuckle. And how Debora was jealous because Baby has a million songs about him.
Gita: The Moniker/Monica joke I only caught on my second time around. I also liked the dark humor when Baby is grabbing Debora from the diner and she says, “Your Buddy’s here,” and the camera pans over to Jon Hamm with a gun.
Kirk: I missed that one!
Gita: I can’t get over Jon Hamm sinisterly singing Barry White. That’s just something I’m not going to ever stop laughing about.
Kirk: Also, that last shot of him, in red, in the police car—that was where they finally managed to make him look evil. Argh… Gita… I’ve had the playlist on this whole time and it just got to “Hocus Pocus,” and that song rocks so hard. The yodeling! Does Baby Driver have the best movie soundtrack ever?
Gita: It might! It might actually! I haven’t stopped listening to it. I’ve been putting it on while I read my ARC copy of Jason’s book.
Kirk: Hah, stories of game development have never rocked so hard.
Gita: I dance to it in the aisles of my bodega while shopping for snacks.
Kirk: Let’s close out with an impossible question: you have to pick one track from this movie for our readers to listen to. What is it?
Gita: “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas. It’s been playing in my head when I talk to my boyfriend, who is currently seeing Baby Driver for the first time.
He needs to get on my level. You?
Kirk: My pick would be “Know How” by Young MC, since I was really into Stone Cold Rhymin’ as a kid and never thought I’d hear that funky-ass guitar intro again.
Just listening to it makes me want to go see the movie again… guess I better get on that.
Gita: YOU SHOULD.