As my good friend recently put it, Edgar Wright “used to make movies about nerds and misfits and stuff.” Now, however, he makes movies about cool people for cool people, with Baby Driver being the most definitive example.
Ignoring that Wright’s last two projects were The World’s End, a clunky sci-fi romp with long-time collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and Ant-Man, a comic book origin story that was unceremoniously ripped from his grip, I do wonder how Baby Driver fits into that particular narrative. It’s meticulously made, uber-stylish, and stars the best cast Wright has ever assembled, but is it cool?
That may be entirely in the eye of the beholder. Baby Driver is the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a quiet young lad who also happens to be a terrific wheelman. He’s in deep to a heist wizard (Kevin Spacey) who never hires the same team twice, cycling between Buddy (Jon Hamm), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and a cadre of other crooks. Just as Baby is about to pay off his debt, he meets Debora (Lily Nelson), a waitress who dreams of riding off into the sunset. Baby is certainly onboard with such a plan, but the realities of being a getaway driver begin to interfere with their budding love.
Along the way, we get a lot of remarkable driving scenes, all set perfectly to various songs. Baby has tinnitus from a childhood accident and can’t drive without his iPod headphones, so Wright syncs the music to the action with such sincerity that it would be embarrassing if it weren’t so impressive. And I don’t just mean the car-and-guns action; as Baby bops down the street during the opening credits, his every move matches “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl.
This is the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene from Shaun of the Dead expanded into a full movie. If you’re not a Wright fan, or if you find even the idea of this to be pretentious and exhausting, you’ll walk out after 10 minutes. But Wright has always capitalized on his infectiousness; all that style comes with some substance, whether it’s the Baby/Debora relationship, picture-perfect casting, or Foxx, Hamm, and Spacey knocking their best lines out of the park. We don’t just remember Shaun and Hot Fuzz because they expertly paid homage to zombie and cop movies; we remember them because Wright and his pals really made us care.
It seems to me that directors like Wright and Guy Ritchie, in their own ways, redefined “cool” and have paid the price ever sense. Ritchie opened his career with two intensely British crime films that somehow went global, making wannabe gangsters with thick accents into dorm-room-poster legends. And Wright, as my friend stated, indeed made his bones turning his balding friend and his fat friend into beloved ass-kicking heroes for all the frumpy losers out there.
Now Ritchie is an auteur for hire, following up his Sherlock Holmes series with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and King Arthur remakes that drew collective yawns from nearly everyone. Meanwhile, Wright keeps doing good work. From producing Attack the Block to writing The Adventures of Tintin, his resume is arguably spotless. Yet there’s something about Baby Driver, though it’s fun as hell, that signals an actual change.
Maybe it’s as simple as, 13 years after Shaun of the Dead, Wright is now making “grown-up” cool movies. And though his audience has grown up with him, the whimsy and joy has largely been replaced with clever, calculated filmmaking. From a technical standpoint, Baby Driver might be the most impressive movie of the decade. That just may not be what an Edgar Wright fan from way back is looking for.