between action and emotion: baby driver movie review

I had the opportunity to see Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver during its limited release in April. At the time, I had only one real complaint about the movie. One which most of my friends and fellow viewers seemed to echo: “it just didn’t feel very realistic”.

As I sit here now digesting my second watch, I still hold this opinion, but I’ve changed my tune on whether or not this is a bad thing. Upon revisiting Baby’s world of soundtracked, fast-paced crime, I was able to distance myself from my expectations and enjoy the ride (so to speak). Baby Driver is an escapist movie in the purest form; for that hour and fifty-three minutes, nothing concerns you except whatever it is that’s concerning Baby. And in the same vein, the quality of Wright’s work isn’t affected by the reality of the plot or character motivations. The film holds up regardless, because there is “real” sentiment and “real” stakes. Wright handles everything with his usual care, expertly creating a movie with genuine heart. Every major decision is motivated by emotion, and this grounds the film in a reality of its own. It doesn’t matter if the choices feel real to us, because we know that they are real to the characters.

Responsible for bringing these choices to life is the exemplary cast. The lesser-known actors prove their abilities, while the well-versed actors thrive without stealing the show. Ansel Elgort (whom I’d previously never considered much) hits his stride as Baby. He walks the line of reluctant and bold, knowing there’s no way out but looking for one anyway. Lily James plays his sweet and simple love interest, at once in over her head and ready to embrace it all with Baby by her side. The two have a chemistry that caters to the heart of the film. They possess the same devotion to each other as the dangerous Buddy and Darling, partners in crime portrayed by Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez. The couples are two sides of the same coin, representing the key elements of Baby Driver; the action and the emotion. Buddy and Darling are invested in the same crime world that Baby and Deborah are trying to escape; while the former couple revolves around the physical (crime sprees, shootouts, and sex), the ladder is all about the emotional (dead mothers, music, and a love for the open road). These are the two sides that Wright precisely balances in Baby Driver. The entire film is a cocktail of enterprise and sentimentality, culminating in the soundtrack and its execution. Each song was carefully chosen to frame the movie, one second tugging at heart strings and the next hitting cues for a car chase. The music is the film’s backbone, artfully structured to hold up Baby Driver‘s thematic, character, and storytelling elements.

While Wright handles his newest film with the same amount of care, Baby Driver’s style is a clear divergence from his usual work. The effort isn’t lacking, but simply focused elsewhere. Everything comes together as it should, even if not in the way that longtime Wright fans would expect. The key to enjoying this movie is to allow yourself to go in without expectations. Treat Baby Driver like a song you’ve never heard before: sit back, relax, and let it play.

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