SXSW Film: Buckle up, because Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ is the best musical in years
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To say that Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the best musical released in the last decade is both absolutely deserved and, to most people, totally unexpected. “Isn’t it a car chase movie?” people will ask, and yeah, on the surface it is: A hyperactive action movie full of blood and funk that just can’t, no, won’t stop the beat. But lying beneath it is some of the most incredible technical music-centered choreography, cinematography and editing since the ’30s. Like another critic observed on Twitter, the painstakingly-crafted dance numbers have simply been replaced by shoot-outs and the sound of metal crashing against metal. And Christ in heaven is it an amazing time at the movies.

I want to go ahead and apologize to y’all in advance for the coyness at the heart of this review — I could gush over specifics until the cows come home, but I really, really don’t want to ruin it for everybody. There’s so many casual things about this experience that one could ruin (from sight gags to shot selections to the soundtrack itself and on and on), so I’m going to do my absolute best to avoid any specifics about the movie itself outside of the most brief of synopses. Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young and incredibly gifted getaway driver, is considered by his criminal boss (a super fun Kevin Spacey) to be his “good luck charm” because, since he forced Baby to go to work for him, a heist hasn’t gone wrong. The driver wants to leave the business, and that desire is only heightened when he falls in love with a waitress named Debora (Lily James). But all that begins to change once Baby’s forced into one last score with a with a impulsive crook named Bats (Jamie Foxx) and a psychotic couple (Elsa Bermudez and Jon Hamm, both fantastic), and things start to go terribly wrong…

Wright’s known among nerds for his meticulous planning and incredible attention to detail (for example, see how the prologue of The World’s End foreshadows and informs the rest of the film from moment to moment) and for his already incredible ability to to craft fantastic scenes around music (the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene in Shaun of the Dead is probably this movie’s closest antecedent outside of his most meticulous devotees), and he totally exceeds expectations. He cooked the screenplay with the songs baked in, and the level of wonderful music-geekery on display is unmatched by anything except perhaps High Fidelity.

The first 20 minutes alone justify nominations for Best Editing and Cinematography (Bill Pope, Wright’s typical cinematographer is at the height of his powers here), as we’re taken on one of the most incredible rides in the prologue and gifted with a brilliant “musical number” for the opening titles so deftly executed it’s hard not to fall in love at first sight and forget there’s another hour-and-40 minutes left. It’s astounding how well he maintains the quality of those first 20 minutes over the course of the rest of the picture, and the whole damn thing flies by. Likewise, there’s so many great sight-gags and truly excellent referential humor throughout that it comes close to rivaling Hot Fuzz as Wright’s funniest work. Again, I wish I could tell you all this crazy shit, but I can’t (I know, it’s driving me nuts too!), so please just trust me when I tell you you’ll have a great respect for the pun, in all of its forms, when you leave the theater.

The cast is uniformly excellent, but I’d say there are two standouts. Foxx is doing a lengthy bit based around his “Motherfucker Jones” character from Horrible Bosses, but he is given more and does more in the role. He’s a scary dude, a real badass, and his performance is magnetic. And, in a surprise turn of events, Elgort is the MVP. He radiates fun and charisma, occasionally looking and acting like a young Harrison Ford, and he’s absolutely and totally committed to making this work. I think a lot of us were worried about him as a kind of wild card, an unexpected element at the heart of this movie that could wreck the whole damn thing, but, like his character, he slickly maneuvers his way past every obstacle with an incredible deftness.

It’s interesting that Wright chose to set his criminal-oriented crime film in Atlanta, and the whole of Baby Driver is steeped in the rich imagery and sound of the region. It’s saturated with Americana of all shapes and stripes, and it’s a beautiful fun house mirror into our cultural output. Wright’s always been fascinated with the canonical badasses present within these borders, and he’s crafted a film worthy of inclusion in that pantheon any day of the week. It’s hard to imagine a funner movie hitting theaters this year, and when it drops in August I know I’ll be right back in line, waiting to see it with as many of my friends as possible. It’s just that good.

Clear your calendars, people. Baby Driver hits theaters on August 11.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus and use #VanyaSXSW for all Vanyaland’s ongoing coverage at South-By-Southwest 2017.

Baby Driver Poster

 

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