“Baby Driver” Blends Music & Movie in Perfect Unison

Baby Driver, the latest from writer/director Edgar Wright, is about to further fuel Wright’s cinematic position as one of the most daring auteurs this side of the arthouse. Although Wright’s name may not be household, his films certainly are. From Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright has been crafting the most loved of so-called “cult classics” for years now. Baby Driver is not Wright’s first genre-bending work, but the film is the first to withhold comedy from being the driving force. Instead, Wright allows the harmonious relationship between music and action to cultivate a glorious spectacle of summer blockbuster.

Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a getaway driver with tinnitus who constantly listens to music on his vintage (they’re not that old) iPods. This opens the gateway for the fusion of music and film Wright is so known for. As Baby goes from heist to heist, meeting criminals played by Jon Hamm, Jaimie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Eiza González, he listens to a wildly fitting selection of songs from a bevy of decades to accompany his driving prowess. Added in to the playlist is Lily James’ Debora as the love interest to Baby and his main cause for action. Through the spectacular cinematography and soundtrack, Baby speeds through a number of automobiles, turning Atlanta into a demolition derby.

Edgar Wright continuously brings his own overt-style to each film (seems fitting he didn’t direct Ant-Man) with quick editing, wry humor, and of course, music and action in sync. For Baby Driver, its as if Wright has turned his own love for music into a narrative force. Each song for the soundtrack isn’t there for just background noise and helps add to the already much heightened reality. The fantasy of living out a personal movie through personal soundtracks is fulfilled by Baby’s constant musical choices of BlurDavid McCallumThe Commodores, among plenty of others playing out through his day. From the long tracking shot in the beginning set to Bob & Earle’s “Harlem Shuffle” showing Baby interacting with his world, the importance of a soundtrack is never diminished. A finale set to an apt Queen song is one of those perfect movie moments. More than a car/heist/action movie, Baby Driver is a music lover’s fantasy, a “what if” all those songs rolling around your head were helping make the movie of your life.

The fantasy of stylish getaway driving seen in other films like Drive, The Driver, and The Getaway have by tradition always favored the neo-noir soaked approach to cool. Wright’s wonderful eye for color leaves out the chiaroscuro and neon-stylings for a palette of primary colors and bright Atlanta scenery. Narratively, Wright keeps the archetypical silent driver through Baby (along with the classic villainous criminal tropes) and the “damsel-in-distress” character as Debora. Wright gives Debora enough nuance to flourish as a character, but never lets her break the male-dominated ideas of the car-chase-movie. The romance between her and Baby more highlights Baby’s own motivation than it does Debora’s character.

Baby Driver will be accepted into the Wright canon as more midnight movie watching and rewatching become accessible. Wright’s fans will have further reason to adulate him while his detractors may see this as, at least, a film demonstrating growth. The film is a towering love letter to music and action films and exemplifies Wright’s genre-bending intelligence. The kinetic editing and pacing only allow the energy of the film to flourish rather than hindering the action under a miasma of quick-cuts. The sheer coolness of style also breathes new life into the genre, with Kevin Spacey coming out as the primary scene-stealer, jazzed up on his own criminal world.

Wright’s ability to cross genres and present fresh takes on old stories is so well received because he crafts fun movies. There’s always drama present in his works, but he doesn’t let that slow down the massive appeal of action and comedy and character. Baby Driver continues this tradition but within a more dramatic vein. Its an action movie for music lovers, and vice versa. A homage without being cliché. A whirlwind of fantasy without being totally unrealistic.

Grade: A

 

“Baywatch” washes up like so much beach trash

Blame it on 21 Jump Street (the movie)’s success. After the failed revivals of ‘classic’ television shows like Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch and Nicole Kidman’s Bewitched, these commercial and critical failures seemed to ruin the niche of popular television comedy to movie formula. But 21 Jump Street (and it’s subsequent sequel) proved to be cheeky and self-referential enough to garner the success the other adaptations couldn’t find. So now Baywatch has washed up on the cinematic beach starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, and Alexandra Daddario and a cast of unfortunately forgettable others.

To say that Baywatch has a plot would be only a disservice to the actual concept of narrative. Dwayne Johnson as Mitch and Zach Efron as Brody et al. operate as team of lifeguards. The first half of the film is team building and the constant ‘unwanted mentor’ role of Mitch to Brody. Soon, a generic drug dealing plot is revealed as being a reason to sustain a film for an unneeded two hours. Action ensues, jokes are told, and the plot meanders through Mitch’s platitudes of teamwork and responsibility as he constantly justifies he and his team’s vigilante actions.

Baywatch’s first and most glaring problem is on display from the get go. While at one point trying to be meta in the same vein as 21 Jump Street, it opts instead for complacent juvenile humor. During the first half hour, the punchline of every joke is accentuated by a seeming high school writer’s gleeful exuberance of the ‘f-word’ as a comedic tool. The jokes seem too stale to be formed by someone with Johnson’s charisma and natural comedic ability. The same can be said for Efron’s lines as most of the script seems to rely too heavily on their presence and not so much comedic chops (which Efron has showcased in other, better comedies). The other characters have little else to do than to be there for comedic effect without much discernible personality between them. For a film trying so desperately to make itself relevant, the actual humor in this comedy steadily keeps dragging through its self made drudgery of so-called comedic situations.

Although Baywatch tries so hard to not be, the often homophobic and misogynistic script (four screenwriters and a director thought a man touching another man’s genitals is cause for laughs?) offers little recourse. The inherent idea of bodies being the main focus of the television show and the now film is caustic to any idea of progressiveness. Even star Priyanka Chopra has said the film is a “feminist movie”, and yes, both male and female bodies are objectified but that should not be an excuse to still be objectifying, especially in this way and in this format. Other films can tackle these ideas in this platform of sardonic comedy, but Baywatch is neither competent nor interesting enough to offer any subtle meanings. It is unfortunate that the film so often misses the mark when it could have used these dated tropes of body-types-as-entertainment to show how ridiculous these constructions are. Yes, there is a male character with a so- called ‘dad-bod’, but that isn’t to offer any new commentary, only flat jokes. Baywatch seems terribly dated in its social commentary (or lack thereof).

Baywatch being an action-comedy could have at least offered some inspired action scenes, but director Seth Gordon keeps the same easy, generic scenes that hindered his other films. As a director, he has been given casts with enormous potential (like Jason Bateman and Mellissa McCarthy in Identity Thief) but he squanders their talent on the most juvenile of humor and uninteresting plots. Throughout Baywatch, there is a severe lack of fun from the cast and script and it hinders what could have been a basically fun summer film. Go talk with a lifeguard for two hours at a pool; it’ll be far more fun and relevant.

Grade – D