Baby Driver is different, and I am a sucker for films that are different. The ingredients are standard for an action movie: car chases, dangerous baddies, a sympathetic hero, and lots of music, but the assembly of these elements is unlike anything else on the big screens. Baby Driver pushes the boundaries of the genre and reevaluates the possibilities for big summer releases.
The plot is not novel by any means. A young man (Ansel Elgort) with a talent for driving really well and really fast finds himself working as a getaway driver for an enigmatic crime boss who won’t release him from his unspoken contract. After his new-found girlfriend, Debora (Lily James), comes into the picture, he needs to pull off one last heist so he can get out for good. Even some of the specifics are cliché. The driver is indebted to the crime boss because he accidentally wronged him (stole a car with a ton of the boss’s contraband in it) and is paying off a debt. The love interest in the story is a waitress at his favorite diner and they get to know each other over greetings and coffee orders. And perhaps most cliché of all, the driver has a tough exterior but a soft spot for his dead mom and a heart of gold.
But Baby Driver is different from other action films with similar components. In this case, the clichés work to ground audience expectations and understandings of the plot while the details go crazy in the background. First of all, the driver’s name is Baby, B-A-B-Y as he often explains to people. He fits his namesake perfectly. Soft spoken, well mannered, and with a mild drawl, he’s the perfect ambiguously southern gentleman. Yelling at each other while driving, his mother and father were killed in a car reck that left Baby with tinnitus and an aversion to alpha male tendencies. His father is only portrayed as loud and abusive while his mother was an angelic singer who was taken from Baby much too soon. Baby now lives with his deaf foster father.
Because Baby is so relatable and likable, almost all other characters are hideously villainous by comparison. The crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), is a cold and cruel presence who governs Baby’s actions through blackmail and manipulation. Doc never uses the same heist team twice, but a few key players are Buddy, Darling, and Bats. Jon Hamm’s Buddy and Eiza González’s Darling are a Bonnie and Clyde duo who are mad for each other and for cocaine. They sport His & Hers tattoos and only join heists when they’re in need of an adrenaline score and a coke score. Jamie Foxx’s Bats is unpredictable and merciless, a dangerous combination. He also has identifying bats tattooed up his neck and an immediate dislike for Baby. The gang’s over-the-top appearances and performances create an exaggerated atmosphere that helps soften the brutal violence of the action scenes.
The essential detail of Baby Driver is Baby’s relationship with music. To drown out his tinnitus, Baby has his headphones in 24/7, plugged into various iPods stashed with different tunes to fit his activities and moods and which make up the film’s soundtrack. The music compliments his getaway driving, revving up with rock and fast tracks that play perfectly to his racing, turns,and braking. He works in sync with his songs, picking specific songs for specific heists and he has to stop, rewind, and start tracks over if the timing of his driving is interrupted. Baby’s link to sound is unshakable. In addition to his constant flow, Baby also creates his own music using snippets of recorded conversations from his portable device.
From a technical standpoint, Baby Driver is incredibly impressive as the editing, story, and overall feel of the film are completely tied to Baby’s personal soundtrack. They fit together flawlessly which is an amazing feat for a car chase-filled action movie that doubles as an old fashioned love story. The chase scenes are fast and exciting and dominated by 70s rock and roll but the film features all sorts of genres and periods from 90s hip hop to 60s pop, creating an ambiguous vintage quality that’s encouraged by the diner settings and enigmatic characters.
Baby Driver is an exciting and impressive watching and listening experience. The basic action-movie plot is bolstered by unique details and the encompassing presence of music. The characters are exaggerated and downright ridiculous, lending a surreal quality to the violence of crime. As a summer blockbuster distributed by Sony and shown in theaters across the world, its differences are what set Baby Driver apart from other run-of-the-mill summer action flicks. It offers entertaining action elements in new blends, with new ideas and new skills. No one aspect of Baby Driver is groundbreaking but its combination sets it above the rest.
GAL WATCH: Though I thoroughly enjoyed Baby Driver for many reasons, it is not a model movie for female representation. There are only three main women featured and one of them is Baby’s deceased mother who is represented only as a backstory for Baby. The other two women are girlfriends/wives who serve to complete their other halves. Baby’s girlfriend, Debora, is barely fleshed out beyond her function as a driving force for Baby’s actions. Buddy’s wife, Darling, is fun to watch and totally badass but other than a very minor backstory, she is just the Bonnie to Buddy’s Clyde, an object for his actions and intent. There are no female characters in this film that have autonomous actions or act as anything other than a cog in a man’s machine.