“Baby Driver” is a movie that centers around two of my favorite things: fast automobiles and cool tunes. Think of it as a car chase musical for movie geeks. It helps, of course, that the writer and director of this film is Edgar Wright, a true nerd himself. Wright knows what he likes and thus knows what we’ll like, and the end result is one kick-ass of an adrenaline rush.
If you have a pulse on the cinema world, then you’ve heard the outstanding buzz and praise for this film. I’m happy to say it’s absolutely, unequivocally deserved. This is a bold, audacious, intoxicating work of pop culture art, which makes it one of my favorite movies this year.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, a young man of few words who has been coerced into working as a getaway driver for sophisticated crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). After a promise of finally being squared up from a previous job gone wrong, Baby agrees to “one last job” so he’ll be free to live a normal life. Anyone who has seen movies about the criminal underworld knows what inevitably comes next — Baby tries to leave and he can’t, being strong-armed into driving for yet another heist. When he meets charming diner waitress Debora (Lily James), it’s love at first sight, and Baby longs to flee with her “in a car we can’t afford with a plan we don’t have” to search for a better life.
It’s a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde” meets a millennial “True Romance,” an unlikely love story that coexists within a glossy and creative crime thriller. There’s an overall hipster attitude that permeates the story, yet it’s not off-putting at all and manages to feel inclusive. The cast is unbelievably fantastic, with each actor perfect for their role. You can tell how much everyone enjoyed working together on this film because they all have an electrifying chemistry that surges onscreen.
Elgort more than lives up to the role and is the real heart of the film, giving a rousing performance that relies heavily on facial expressions and very few lines of dialogue. This is going to be one of his classic star making roles. Elgort and James are so captivating with their effortless rapport that the second Baby lays eyes on Debora, you instantly want them to end up together. There are some impressive performances from the supporting cast of baddies too, including Spacey as the no-nonsense ringleader, Jon Hamm playing deliciously against type as a leather-clad outlaw, and Jamie Foxx stepping in as a very angry (and trigger happy) criminal. There’s nary a misstep anywhere with this cast.
While this is a male dominated movie, the testosterone fest doesn’t overshadow its strong female characters. James holds her own as a devoted new girlfriend, willing to risk it all (with zero reluctance) for her true love, and Eiza González (Darling) is stunning and disturbing in her take-no-prisoners approach to holding up her end of the bargain in the grand larceny schemes. These are tough, fearless women who are a force to be reckoned with, not simply eye and arm candy for the men.
The soundtrack is as eclectic as the film, blasting tunes that extend across all genres and years that somehow manages to create the perfect earworm accompaniment. The mash-up of great music and great driving creates the perfect melody of classic r&b, indie rock, easy listening…and squealing tires. There’s plenty of both dancing and driving choreography, with some of the most incredible stunt driving ever captured on film — which translates into several of the best car chase sequences of the decade. The exhilarating opening getaway sequence in a drifting red Subaru WRX rivals any of the “Fast and the Furious” movies. If you appreciate fast cars and skilled behind the wheel stunts, you won’t be disappointed.
When this high-speed caper movie reaches its deserved cult status (as it almost instantly does), there are plenty of what will later prove to be iconic moments in this film, from the introduction of Debora and Baby as she walks past him wearing headphones and singing an off-key “b-a-b-y,” to a post-crime coffee run dance through downtown Atlanta.
The film’s perfection lies in its imperfections, and what’s so great about all of this is that nobody is trying too hard to construct a forced relevancy. It just is.