Highly anticipated, severely overcooked, Edgar Wright’s latest feature, Baby Driver (2017) is an action, music and cringe-packed Hot Mess. Yes, it stands to be repeated, capitalized. Hot Mess. Where the film’s premise was cute in concept, it manifested as a teen-dream, driving-and-lady-porn catalogue, strung meekly together on the most tenuous of narrative threads. Edgar Wright went wrong, big time.
Baby Driver follows Baby, yes, B-A-B-Y Baby, (Ansel Elgort) a young getaway driver for criminals (bank robbers and the like). Due to childhood trauma he is a) near-mute, and therefore extremely ~cool~, and b) an excellent driver. Eventually his criminal attachments creep into his personal life and B-A-B-Y must face his gearbox demons head-on in a film climax shamefully overwritten and underperformed — enough to wonder how the film has maintained a 95% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Edgar Wright started two steps ahead on a path to success with Baby Driver. With his largely successful satirical comedies Hot Fuzz (2007) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), Wright has established a strong enough following to guarantee him at least some measure of viewership for Baby Driver. With a budget of $34 million USD, Baby Driver way outstrips the resources of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz combined. However, money has not equated engagement in this action piece. It watches like a bad 70s action-heist, complete with poor gender, ability and race representation.
The trio of women in the film are painfully loyal to the old-school trifecta of Virgin, Whore and Mother. First we have Deborah, (Lily James), the toothache-inducing love interest, who awaits Baby in her dead-end diner all day (and night), without ambitions beyond “hitting the road” (with Baby, in Baby’s car, of course). Then we have Darling (Eliza Gonzalez), whose body is so thoroughly segmented by the camera, it is a wonder we can recognize her a whole, able-bodied woman. She is the fetishized ‘bad-gal’ criminal who pops gum and looks pretty whilst wielding some heavy weaponry in the bank-robbing gang. (Don’t worry, she gets fridged at just the right time, so we don’t need to worry about her in the climax, and the antagonist has something to be vengeful over). Finally, we have the enigmatic mother-figure, Baby’s departed Mama, played fleetingly by Sky Ferreira.
These women are props for the real characters of the piece — the men — to play off and to find motivation by. Equally to using the women rather than engaging them, Baby finds martyrdom by rescuing (dumping) his wheelchair-bound mentor, Joseph (C.J. Jones), who is literally denied a voice or independence, digging Wright deeper into his trench of social insults. The plot shifts away from believability into convenience by such rapid bounds that the upbeat and music-riddled plot becomes sour and over-developed, a thin veil of detail that fails to disguise the shallow writing of a film that makes very little sense on paper. Much of Baby’s character choices are caught up in moments of confusing pride rather than self preservation, a complexity that could have been a point of interest but instead become one of confusion. His other mentor — a slightly undercooked rendition of House of Cards’ Frank Underwood (they didn’t even bother subbing out Kevin Spacey to disguise it) — completely shifts character motivation in a leap that feels like it is trying to be ingenious but instead is unfeasible. The climax rolls into a fiery car park chicken game where masculinities clash and femininities get in the way, and the ‘gray’ morals of the protagonists are left unnervingly under-addressed when, at the film’s conclusion, passers-by vouch for his ‘niceness’ and general good-Person-ish-vibes in court.
Edgar Wright may have established a precedent for good comedy but Baby Driver seems more like an under-thought film that would have been written by a white, teenage boy who had too much money on his hands (“there’ll be cars, I say, Tim!” “Put your legs up on the table, dahl, the people’ll love it!”). Steer clear of this one to retain your faith in Wright.
SMALL OR BIG SCREEN: Don’t bother with the cinema for this one folks, unless you want to emerge tinnitus-riddled and obnoxious, just like Baby.
INCLUSIVITY: Just the freaking worst. Jamie Foxx’s character, though prominent, is shallow, angry and damaging. Women are bodies to be cut by our gazes, and only white, able-bodied men are worthy of narrative focus.
THIS OR… Mate. Just go watch Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). Also Baby Driver seems to drag itself towards Nicholas Winding Reyn’s Drive (2011), mute protagonist and all, yet the equally disturbing gender politics of that neo-noir make it difficult to recommend.)