Believe the hype, everybody. Baby Driver and The Big Sick really are as good as everyone has been saying — more on The Big Sick another time, but for now, Baby Driver!
I’m about to write a ton about Edgar Wright, so let me first mention that I loved everything in this movie. The cast is so great. Ansel Elgort is getting lots of attention, but lets not forget that Lily James as Debora is impossible not to fall in love with, Jamie Foxx is at his considerable best as an unhinged sociopath, Jon Hamm and Eiza González are a charismatic match made in hell, Kevin Spacey does Kevin Spacey things. It was great.
And of course, I have to join the chorus of fans singing the soundtrack’s praise as well. It’s heartbeat that makes the film go, and I can assure you I’ll continue to listen to it on Spotify regularly for the foreseeable future.
Now, with that important stuff mentioned, on to my boy Edgar.
There’s a good 20 minutes at the start of Baby Driver where I literally couldn’t sit still. As in, I genuinely couldn’t keep myself from fidgeting and squirming in my seat from sheer joy. That first car chase, combined with the loooooong tracking shot, was everything I wanted this movie to be. It was all the technical brilliance and ebullient film geekery I crave from Wright.
As Guillermo del Toro tweeted, Baby Driver is like a Gene Kelly musical, but with cars and gun violence. “An American In Paris on wheels and crack smoke. It’s a movie in love with cinema – the high of cinema and motion. In love with color and light and lenses and film.”
This is peak Edgar Wright. While a definite shift in tone and location for the director, like all of his films it is an invitation into a world shaped by his deep love of cinema — this time, set to music!
He’s a meticulous and methodical director. Everything in an Edgar Wright film is carefully planned and storyboarded. He has a vision in his head, he carefully plans how to collaborate toward its execution, and then he makes it happen — all the while utilizing his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema.
That’s not the only way to make a great movie. Some directors make amazing art by throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, or by shooting massive amounts of footage and then doing much of the work in the editing room.
But Wright is the opposite of that. It’s all meticulously storyboarded before shooting begins, shot for shot, every frame, angle, and beat. Without that sort of precision, a film like Baby Driver never would have been possible.
It’s not just the massively complicated car and foot chase scenes, everything in this film required Wright’s uncommon level of attention and preparation. Everything had to work together, on rhythm, perfectly choreographed. For example, the actors had earwigs in so they could hear the music, to be certain that each footstep and gunshot was in time to the music, as it was choreographed.
To have one scene where the action plays out in time with the music is fun — like the Queen scene in Shaun of the Dead — but to have the majority of a film work that way is INSANE.
People too often underrate Wright’s technical skill. They’ll mention the Cornetto Trilogy being funny, clever homages to genres that tell meaningful stories about continuing to grow up as an adult, but even that praise too often leaves out how fucking brilliant the actual filmmaking is. Maybe the irony and humility of the films makes it harder for people to take it seriously, but they are missing out. Fortunately, Tony Zhou gets it.
Perhaps part of it is that he makes it look too easy. Wright and his team excel at taking filmmaking with a really high degree of difficulty and doing it so well that it blends in with the larger fabric of the film. Making a fully analog action jukebox musical full of non-CGI car chases is as high as a degree of difficulty is going to get, but this film fits together seamlessly. It’s so visceral and thrilling that it’s easy to miss how impressive the filmmaking is.
Chances are, after the critical and commercial success of Baby Driver, we will get to see what it looks like when this sort of thing is done poorly. We are going to get a bunch of copycat projects in about 18 months, that’s how the business works.
The good news is, we’re also going to get some great films eventually, as some gifted directors will make art that riffs on what Wright does in Baby Driver; much the same way that Edgar Wright takes all of his passions and interests and creates something exciting and new each time out.
It’s always bittersweet — but mostly sweet, because good for them — to see a personally beloved artist graduate from really popular ‘underground’ figure into full-fledged celebrity. His work has been known for a while, with critical raves and a medium sized but massively passionate fanbase. Now he has arrived in earnest as a blockbuster director. We felt like he was ours, but now he belongs to everyone. Yeah, that sounds really creepy, but it’s still true.
We first thought this moment was coming in 2010, after the excited buzz Scott Pilgrim vs. the World got at early screenings, but then that film didn’t perform as well as many predicted at the box office. Then we thought it would happen with Marvel’s Ant-Man, but that ended poorly when Wright left the project soon before filming began over “creative differences,” — something I don’t believe would have happened if production had been set to begin just a year later, and Marvel could have seen how well Guardians of the Galaxy over performed and perhaps allowed more wiggle room for Wright’s vision.
Alas, at long last, the well-deserved time has finally come. Edgar Wright will no longer be an underrated genius, just a genius.