B-A-B-Y Baby: Baby Driver (2017)
Even as I delve deeper and deeper into classic cinema, my love of modern films has not waned; what has changed is that I'm increasingly partial to films that are, as I call it, cinematic. What does that mean? To me, it means films that are conscious of film history, that know they're building off of a long-standing tradition of film-making, and not only pay homage to that but also actively try to improve on what came before rather than just stick to the status quo. 2017 is a great year for film because it's full of pictures that do exactly this, but none does it better than Baby Driver.
Baby Driver is the kind of film where you want to pull out all of the cliched, overused praises: groundbreaking, game-changing, original . . . But it isn't any of those things. I can't think of any element of the film--the romance, the car chases, the jukebox soundtrack, the final-job-gone-wrong, the lovers on the run, the crazy criminal who throws a wrench in the plan, the betrayed criminal who seeks revenge, the criminal with a heart of gold--that hasn't appeared in a million other films. What truly makes Baby Driver remarkable is that it takes all of these tired tropes we've seen before, and handles them so expertly that they feel fresh and new again.
Something that particularly stood out to me was the budding romance between Lily James as Deborah and Ansel Elgort as Baby. Their chemistry reminded me so much of classic Hollywood, especially the romances found in Film Noirs like They Live by Night and Dark Passage. The characters fall for each other way too quickly, but the bond between them is developed so carefully and genuinely that you really can believe it's love at first sight. And like the classic dames played by women such as Audrey Totter or Janet Leigh, Deborah is a courageous woman, unafraid to dive headfirst into a world of danger in order to save the man she loves. I was especially impressed by the scene where Baby's true profession is revealed to her, in a sequence that is equal parts tense and gut-wrenching but ultimately understated, with no actual dialogue shared between the two lovers. No explosive confrontations or lovers' quarrels here: these characters are confident in their love and no secrets or moral conundrums are going to get between them. On paper, it's a romance not unlike the rather boring, vanilla one you'd find in any action film, but on-screen, it becomes something so much more: they're a pair of star-crossed lovers who are worth believing in and rooting for.
But Deborah and Baby aren't the only great characters here. Doc, Bats, Darling, Buddy, and Baby's foster father Joseph are all memorable in their own right, making up a great supporting cast. I was particularly fond of Joseph, who plays another trope--the concerned father figure trying to convince the criminal son to turn his life around--but the fact that he relies on Baby to care for him in his old age, and his deafness, add new layers of complexity to this tired dynamic. Turning to Baby's "co-workers", something really fantastic about the film is that there's no real villain: Bats definitely comes the closest, and all of these characters work against Baby at some point, but ultimately all of their motivations are understandable, so that even if we're rooting for Baby, we can see why they react the way they do. They're also all so much fun: Kevin Spacey is stellar as always, but Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx really put in standout performances here, and I love the twisted love between Hamm and Eiza González, who provide a great counterpoint of what lovers on the run look like way down the line--the love is still there, but the reality of a life of drug addiction and crime is also explored, stripping away the veneer of romance and idealization that surrounds the idea of romance on the run from the law.
Now, what everybody is talking about in Baby Driver is the one-two punch of the car chases and the soundtrack. The device of having Baby listen to music constantly to drown out his tinnitus is very clever; because of this, all of the music is diegetic, a very rare thing in film and something that I was really impressed by. It allows for some great moments where your typical bombastic action scene set to a great song suddenly has the sound cut out--Baby's iPod is smashed, his earbuds are ripped out, etc.--and all you hear is guns firing, or sirens blaring, and it really is an incredibly effective technique to drive home that the crime in this film isn't glamorous or heroic. Take away the killer tunes and matching choreography, and it becomes something quite brutal and awful. But when they are there--it really doesn't get much better than that. There is nothing I love more than a perfect combination of scene and song, and while the whole film is filled with examples of this, the car chases are the best of the best. Adrenaline-pumping, full of style, and with pitch-perfect choreography: they just don't get better than this.
There's so much more I could say about this wonderful film, but really, my highest recommendation can only be to go and see it. This is the kind of contemporary film that deserves to break records at the box office: it's a rare mid-budget studio release that doesn't have the CGI-infused spectacle of the latest superhero film, nor the minimalism of the typical indie, but excels at everything it attempts and provides a truly unique experience in 2017's cinematic landscape--and is really, really fun and entertaining to boot. Run, don't walk to your nearest cinema and catch Baby Driver before it's too late--I promise you won't regret it!