SXSW Film Review – Baby Driver
Other than the cast, it being an Edgar Wright film, and a photo, not much had been known about Baby Driver prior to its world premiere at SXSW. It is kind of a unique thing to be at an official world premiere of any film, but at one this hyped, the crowd was electric and there were so many “famous” people in attendance, I was glad to be sitting in the back, spotting all the talent on the floor of the Paramount Theatre. Edgar Wright came out to introduce the film, professing it to be his passion project, the first script he had written on his own. The story has been in his head for 20 plus years, and he finally finished the script in 2011.
Within the first minutes of Baby Driver, it becomes apparent what kind of film it is, one centered on money heists with a young-faced getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort). Baby is a part of an engineered group of criminals put together by Doc (Kevin Spacey). While it seems Baby is just an equal part of the crew, he is in fact in debt to Doc and does the jobs to pay him back. His expert driving is responsible for the successful getaways of the first crew we meet, Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). Things start to go bad for Baby when he starts doing getaways for Doc with Bats (Jamie Foxx). Baby wants out of this world, and desperately wants a normal life with newly-found girlfriend Deborah (Lily James).
One of the unique elements of Baby Driver is the choreography with the heists and the getaways with music. Music is a huge part of the film and the songs used vary in genre and decade. Baby is slightly obsessed with music, and uses it as a reliever of tinnitus (we will come back to this later). Ear buds are always in his ears and he has various old school iPods, one for different days or moods. Because of this, music is a huge part of the film. The heists can only start when Baby hits the right note or he starts the music when his colleagues step out of the car. Just like a dance, the scenes are choreographed down to the second, meaning all the music choices were made and cleared before filming began. While the opening heist sets the tone of the film and is done fascinatingly well, it still reminded me of the opening of Drive, and paled in comparison to Ryan Gosling’s Driver navigating the streets of Los Angeles.
While the opening minutes of Baby Driver set the scene for the rest of the film, Baby’s need for music and how it is intertwined in each of his getaways gets overused. About two-thirds of the way into the film, boredom had set in, as the same shtick is used over and over again. The acting by Elgort and the rest of the cast, save for Baby’s foster dad, Joseph (CJ Jones), came off as melodramatic and verged at moments on satirical. This was possibly Wright’s goal for the film, but it seemed he was out to make another great crime caper film. It all ended up being a bit too much.
Baby suffers from tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. This is a result of an accident in his childhood. He uses the music on ear buds to drown out the constant ringing, playing it loud enough to not be able to hear someone speaking to him. On a personal note, I have had tinnitus for twenty years, and when it was revealed that he drowns out the ringing with loud music, I was pretty much done with the film. As someone who suffers from this, if I put loud music in my ears all day, it would drown the ringing out, but also make it so much worse. Putting ear buds in is essentially like putting two speakers right up to your ears. I had never heard of someone with tinnitus using that as a coping mechanism, and the film lost me completely with this particular trait in Baby’s character. It felt like Wright did not do his research enough with this affliction, and more so used it as a justification for Baby to constantly be listening to music.
Baby Driver is all in good fun, and there are certainly plenty of laughs, along with amazement at Baby’s impeccable driving skills. The kid even does great parkour when it is needed. With the overuse of the music element and faulty reasoning (in my opinion) for it, the film fell flat. With what was seen in the beginning as amazing and fun became expected in the end. I saw the tweets and the reviews following the premiere. People are insanely impressed with the film and love it to death. I loved the execution of it, and the willingness to step outside the box, but the story and its characters did not keep me interested in it, nor impressed. I know I will be in the minority in my view of Baby Driver, and that’s okay.