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we got movie sign | by maryann johanson

Baby Driver movie review: common car-nage

Baby Driver red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Edgar Wright used to send up cinematic clichés with gusto and with huge humor. Here he just embraces them — and his sullen, unengaging hero — unironically.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Edgar Wright’s early work
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Baby Driver is so hot, so cool, so exciting! Well, the opening sequence is, at least, the one bit in the movie that actually feels like Edgar Wright directed it.tweet Fresh-faced getaway driver Baby waits in the car and we do too while a bank heist is happening in the background. Haha! A heist movie that isn’t about the heist at all! This is the driver’s movie, and he’s only about the driving, and nothing else. Except the music. He is also about the music — the classic rock and pop and soul and blues and jazz — in his headphones that he bops to not only while driving but while waiting: drumming on the steering wheel, flipping the wipers on and off in time to the tunes. Edgar Wright makes sure that we are all Baby at that moment, any of us who have ever sat in a car listening to music, and even those of us who’ve never done that but feel the romantic pull of the road and our tunes anyway.

After a crisp and snappy opening sequence, Baby Driver never again reaches that same level of breezy magnificence.
tweet

That’s how good Edgar Wright is. In the opening sequence of his new movie, anyway.

And then the escape! Wow, Baby is also badass behind the wheel once the car is in motion, all zippy dangerous donuts and making the cops crash into one another (and into civilians, too), all over the city streets and freeways of Atlanta. Whee! The crisp snappy visual dynamic extends to the opening credits sequence, too, after the heist is over, in which Baby dance-strolls along the sidewalk from their hideout to grab coffee for the post-crime breakdown and money-split. Baby isn’t just a badass driver: he’s a badass walker. (Baby Walker sounds like those little wheeled chairs that infants use to scoot around before they can keep to their feet on their own, though, so ixnay on that for an awesome movie title.)

“Does this jacket make me look like young Han Solo? Cuz that’s the role I really wanted... *sigh*”

“Does this jacket make me look like young Han Solo? Cuz that’s the role I really wanted… *sigh*”tweet

But then… that’s it. Baby Driver still has another hour and 40 minutes to go, and it never reaches that level of breezy magnificence again. Not even close. Not visually, and not thematically, either: the insouciance of laid-back criminals gives way to tedious angst and handwringing.tweet I can’t recall ever before seeing a movie that gave up this early: usually they wait till the last act to poop out on us, to run out of ideas and steam. Perhaps the only truly original thing about Baby Driver is its astonishing pivot from gripping opener to rote plot full of totally unsurprising clichés: Baby (Ansel Elgort: Insurgent, The Fault in Our Stars) doesn’t really want to live a life of crime, but boss Doc (Kevin Spacey: Horrible Bosses 2, Margin Call) is blackmailing him. Baby is so tormented, so haunted by the memory of his dead mother. (I’m really tired of the biggest influence a woman can have on a male protagonist onscreen is to be absent.) Baby has a new girlfriend in diner-waitress-with-a-heart-of-gold Debora (Lily James: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Cinderella), who, like so many other ill-conceived female love interests in men’s stories, appears to have no friends or family to warn her that her new crush is bad news, and nothing to keep her from deciding on a whim that it would be a good idea to toss out her entire life and run away with him. (Newsflash to male screenwriters, ie Wright in this case: Maybe men don’t have friends, and that’s actually really sad, but women do. And we talk to our friends about what we’re doing with our lives. We are not solitary robots waiting for you to awaken us and take us away from all of this. We do not buy women like Debora. She is not us, and she is not whom we aspire to be.)

The waitress-with-a-heart-of-gold is like so many other ill-conceived female love interests in men’s stories…
tweet

Edgar Wright used to send up cinematic clichés with gusto and with huge humor: that’s what Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were all about, and they both remain a joy to watch today. Here he merely embraces the clichés in the most straightforward and unironic way… a way that’s pretty dour, too. (Elgort’s Baby comes across mostly as a sullen child.tweet We don’t care much what happens to him, or whether he will extricate himself from his supposedly unwanted situation.) I kept waiting for the twist, the thing that would clue me in to the big overarching joke,tweet the moment in which Baby Driver would pop back to the snazzy life it had at the beginning. And that moment never comes.

Objects in mirror may be blander than they appear.

Objects in mirror may be blander than they appear.tweet

Baby does do a couple more getaway jobs with rotating gang members including Bats (Jamie Foxx: Annie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and couple Buddy (Jon Hamm: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie) and Darling (Eiza González: Jem and the Holograms) — oh, is he 20 years older than her? *yawn* — but there is no zing to any of it. Oddly, though, there is one sequence, a shootout that Wright synchronizes to “Tequila” playing on Baby’s iPod, which is “supercool” — or so we’re meant to take it — but also unintentionally disconcerting. Because we’re also meant to understand that Baby doesn’t like guns (except when he does use one, as in the image at the top of this review) and hates this shootout, so what the heck are we supposed to feel here? Wright mostly lets his signature visual and auditory style be squashed by the supposed needs of mainstream filmmaking — the first time he attempted to go full-on Edgar Wright in a studio movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which flopped — to the point where this barely even feels like his work… and the one moment in which he lets it spring up again is completely at odds with the story he wants to tell.

Perhaps most disappointing of all, however, is that there’s barely many more nervy and audacious automobile stunts after that tease of an opening sequence, just mostly stock car chases set to a hip retro soundtrack. If Baby’s not very engaging and his driving is mostly absent, what we did come for again? Boss tunes are not enough.tweet


red light 2 stars

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Baby Driver (2017) | directed by Edgar Wright
US/Can release: Jun 28 2017
UK/Ire release: Jun 28 2017

MPAA: rated R for violence and language throughout
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, violence)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Nathan

    Worst review of all time.

  • Not one of the greatest comments of all time, to be honest. Why don’t you explain what you disagree with in my review and what you liked about the movie? Or did you simply feel the need to piss on it, for some juvenile reason?

  • RogerBW

    This reminds me of The Transporter, which similarly had a wonderful driving sequence as its opener… and then ran straight into generic crime-movie-land, completely forgetting that our hero was supposed to be a driver more than anything else.

    But I also can’t take Ansel Elgort seriously; his face is made to play a high school bully.

  • One great scene is one more than the trailer made me think would exist.

    On a tangential note, every time I’ve seen Ansel Elgort in a movie, I think that somebody else could’ve done the role as well or better. Granted, “every time” was only twice. Maybe I’m just miffed because his Augustus was nowhere near as appealing as the one in my head.

  • Beowulf

    Worst comment of all time.

  • Geoff C. Bassett

    Wonderful review and I agree with all your critiques. I do think that even though he carries a lot of cliches. he does it in a great manner, and I loved the ending of the film. It’s easily Edgar Wright’s worst film, but it’s still okay compared to most of the crap out there.

  • MarkVH

    Good review, and agree with most of it. I liked the movie more than you overall, but the near-unanimous praise and critics falling all over one another to love on it have me close to actively disliking it.

  • Bluejay

    Hmm, and a film called The Only Living Boy In New York is coming out later this summer. Are we witnessing the beginning of the Simon and Garfunkel Shared Cinematic Universe?

    Your “boss tunes” comment made me check out the song list on the soundtrack, which looks impressive. It may not be enough to redeem the film, but “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is both hilarious and frickin’ badass. I’m glad it’s reaching more ears.

  • Danielm80

    I think more directors ought to follow the Cameron Crowe strategy:

    http://www.theonion.com/article/cameron-crowe-to-release-only-soundtracks-5072

  • Bluejay

    Ha! Brilliant.

  • bobbyfrostful

    Finally, a bad review of this movie. Mainstream critics are dolts. Film was a total dud.

  • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

    I cannot speak for poster “Nathan,” nor do I pretend that his train of thought is anywhere near the same as mine. All I can say (and I’m really not singling you out) is that the relatively few poor reviews of “Baby Driver” have all come across to me a bit like, “Given that most people are bestowing very good reviews upon this film, one gets noticed merely by going against the grain; whereas just another positive review of this film would probably be swept on with the flow of things without remark.” I’m not suggesting that your review is incorrect; after all, your opinion is your own. I’m simply saying that when there are relatively few outlying negative reviews to a film that has been received in an overwhelmingly positive manner, I often cannot help but think: contradiction = attention.

  • RogerBW

    Anyone might think that one should actually try reading a review rather than forming an opinion based on whether or not it agreed with the general mass of critics.

  • I actually can’t stand when music is so selected and forced on us. Music as part of the narrative. It always comes across to me as overly manipulative.
    One reason is because I am MAJOR selective about the music I listen to. .I can’t stand most pop/rap/whatever music that’s used to highlight scenes and make them hip and cool.
    This movies sounds awful to me. Plus the title alone is awful.

  • Bluejay

    I can’t for the life of me imagine any critic watching a movie and then thinking, “I secretly absolutely loved this film, but since everyone else loves it, I’m going to trash it in my review just to get more eyeballs.” MaryAnn has never been hesitant to praise a film that is already widely praised, as long as that’s the way she really feels about it.

    The fact is that not everyone has the same subjective opinions about art, nor are they required to. (What a boring world that would be.) Even when something is loved (or hated) by a vast majority, there will always be those who will sincerely disagree. And, yes, they will naturally be noticed, because rarities are always noticed; that’s not their fault. Should they be honest and forthright about their disagreement, or remain silent in “deference” to the most popular opinion?

  • RogerBW

    Bluejay, what about Armond White? He seems to have built an image as a contrarian, and his reviews are often quite short on _what_ he likes or dislikes about a film.

  • Bluejay

    Ah yes, him. To be honest, I don’t really read him, but is there any indication that he doesn’t actually believe what he says?

  • Bluejay

    I actually can’t stand when music is so selected and forced on us. Music as part of the narrative. It always comes across to me as overly manipulative.

    Er, that’s what a score DOES, whether it’s written specifically for the film or chosen from existing songs.

    What did you think of 2001: A Space Odyssey? All the music in it was curated, pre-existing pieces.

    I am MAJOR selective about the music I listen to. .I can’t stand most pop/rap/whatever music that’s used to highlight scenes and make them hip and cool.

    Yes, I know, you’ve said this many times, MarkyD. :-) I could suggest that watching a film requires being open to new experience and not being totally in control of what you see and hear, including the musical element; but I doubt that that will help. I’m sorry you’re going to have a rough time with a lot of films. :-/

    Plus the title alone is awful.

    Take it up with Simon and Garfunkel. :-)

  • Danielm80

    Now sometimes you go to a movie and people will claim, “Oh, this movie was so manipulative. The director totally manipulated the audience.” The thing is, manipulating the audience is what writers do. It’s what we excel at. So when a movie director or writer is accused of being “manipulative,” what’s really being said is that he simply got caught at it. But we all do it, all the time. We’re like magicians, and sometimes someone spots us with a card up our sleeve.

    —Peter David, But I Digress column, “The Three High Verbals”

    http://www.peterdavid.net/2014/10/27/the-three-high-verbals-part-1/

  • althea

    That’s an interesting contrast to the argument above, that a “bad” review of a “good” could be written in order to attract attention.

  • Oops. Of course scores manipulate. I meant to say VOCAL music. More specifically, movies that pull specific pop culture songs to play over scenes in their movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good example.
    All it does is pull me OUT of the movie I’m watching.
    I prefer movies with original scores made just for that movie. Of course, there are exceptions.
    Most movies don’t do the GOTG treatment so I get along just fine. I tend to avoid those that do, unless I hear so much praise that I just have to see it.
    Dude, I’m flattered you remember my disdain for bad music. Haha.
    Of course, I don’t get the S & G reference. They have a song called that or something?

  • Stuff I liked about Debora: at several points she actually did something rather than just stupidly wait for something horrible to happen to her/to be saved. She also picked up on the tension of a couple different interactions and didn’t make things worse with dumb comments or outbursts.

    Stuff I didn’t like: even if she had no family around, her waitress co-worker definitely would have told her Baby was bad news.

    I generally like Ansel Elgort, but I feel like he couldn’t decide who Baby was supposed to be. He was most charming and charismatic in his home scenes, seeming like the sweet kid in a tough spot the other characters seemed to see him as, but he was snotty in the heist planning scenes and vacillated between awkward and arrogant in scenes with Debora. I don’t know if it was him or the editing, but he didn’t seem to have great rhythm…and that was necessary to fully sell this particular film.

    Kevin Spacey and Jamie Fox were great, Eiza Gonzalez stole most of the scenes where she was allowed to speak.

    On the whole, I liked it. I wanted to love it. I wanted it all to hang together perfectly.

  • Bluejay

    movies that pull specific pop culture songs to play over scenes… pull me OUT of the movie I’m watching.

    YMMV. Clearly you have no tolerance for pop.

    I prefer movies with original scores made just for that movie.

    So I’m curious: Would you be okay with ORIGINAL pop songs written SPECIFICALLY for a movie? Or you just can’t stand the sound of drums, guitars, and vocals, whether the music is specifically created for the film or not?

    I’m flattered you remember my disdain for bad music.

    How can I forget? Every time I comment on pop music on this forum, you always show up to provide the grumpy counterpoint. :-)

    Of course, I don’t get the S & G reference. They have a song called that or something?

    Yes. Since the song is included in the soundtrack, I’m assuming the movie is named after it.

  • Danielm80

    I’m sort of curious how MarkyD felt about the vocal tracks in The Graduate, but it’s probably a bad idea to ask.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yeah, I too was disappointed in this. Ultimately, it was a pretty conventional, post-Tarantino action-thriller with an Indie-vibed soulful-boy-meet-cutes-MPDG crammed in the middle, and an “obscure=good” musical sensibility. I liked the way the music and action was edited together, but only to a point. The plot makes no sense, and depends on one baldly contrived coincidence after another. Wright managed to drain all the menace out of Kevin goddamn Spacey.

  • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

    I read the review multiple times before I posted what I posted. I said nothing inflammatory, whatsoever. All I expressed is “the sense” I sometimes get when some reviews seem like outliers. I made absolutely clear that I was not singling-out Ms. Johanson, and that I was not saying that her opinion was incorrect. Maybe I needed 5-7 additional disclaimers for people to get the point?

  • Danielm80

    Her review is clearly an outlier. If you’re just observing that one of these things is not like the others, there’s no need to point it out. It’s obvious. (And some of us come here for a refreshing alternative to mainstream opinions.) But if you’re suggesting that she’s going against the grain just to get attention, rather than offering her honest opinion, you’re insulting her credibility.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Yes

  • Tonio Kruger

    I saw that list and personally I was more impressed by the song list for Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead — though I must admit I rarely see golden oldies like :”Baby I’m Yours” appear on the same list as “Hocus Pocus.”

    Then again I’m still hooked on “Run, Rabbit, Run” song from the Get Out! soundtrack so my mileage is obviously likely to vary.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Baby has a new girlfriend in diner-waitress-with-a-heart-of-gold Debora (Lily James: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Cinderella), who, like so many other ill-conceived female love interests in men’s stories, appears to have no friends or family to warn her that her new crush is bad news, and nothing to keep her from deciding on a whim that it would be a good idea to toss out her entire life and run away with him.

    This part sounds like such an obvious crib from Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde that I’m surprised you didn’t mention it, MaryAnn.

  • What did you think was interesting or different about what he did with the clichés?

  • I have absolutely no reason to write to such a motive. Clickbait does no good when a site doesn’t have advertising. I need people to come here and enjoy what I’m doing so much that they become subscribers. That does not happen if I am not consistently honest and true to my own voice and my own opinion.

  • Should they be honest and forthright about their disagreement, or remain silent in “deference” to the most popular opinion?

    I think that happens far more often than you’d expect, given the toxic nature of online pushback these days. It’s no fun — and could be actually dangerous — to post a review with a minority opinion of certain fanboy-friendly movies.

  • I’ve been in press screenings with White — I’m talking about those in screening rooms that are full of critics only, no ordinary moviegoers who won tix from a radio station or something. And I could often predict the tenor of his review based on the response in the screening room: If the mood was generally good and you could tell that most of the critics there were liking the movie, White’s review would be negative. Ditto the opposite: a bad mood from the critics would mean White would write a positive review. The only times I could not make a prediction was when the mood was mixed or it was difficult to tell how critics were reacting… in which case White’s review would be more nuanced and mixed as well.

    So I do think that White is being deliberately contrarian, and is not writing reviews that reflect his actual opinion. But I also don’t think there’s any other critic who does the same, not anyone with any readership and audience, that is.

  • Indeed. All movies — all storytelling — obviously contrived and manipulative. The trick as a writer/creator is to make your story feel natural and organic.

  • Stuff I liked about Debora: at several points she actually did something rather than just stupidly wait for something horrible to happen to her/to be saved.

    Like what?

    She also picked up on the tension of a couple different interactions and didn’t make things worse with dumb comments or outbursts.

    That’s a *really* low bar…

  • Does that not fall under the complaint about clichés?

  • Bluejay

    Clearly you didn’t grow up listening to the 3-CD Collected Works. :-)

    I like this trend of obscure S&G titles, and I hope it continues. I look forward to the film versions of A Simple Desultory Philippic and Voices of Old People.

  • Bluejay

    So I do think that White is being deliberately contrarian, and is not writing reviews that reflect his actual opinion.

    Interesting. What does he gain from this? Is a reputation as a contrarian rewarding, somehow? It seems pretty pathetic that he needs to rely on the group’s reaction around him before he can decide what his own will be. Does he ever review films that he watches alone?

  • Danielm80

    Back in the 1990s, when I still read the Village Voice, I could predict what their reviews were going to say, because their critics hated every mainstream studio film, especially if it looked like it was going to be a big hit. I could never tell if they genuinely hated the conventions of those films or if they just reflexively opposed everything the studios represented.

  • Danielm80

    I hope they use the full title of “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I was Robert McNamara’d into Submission).”

    I thought of “Baby Driver” as a really well-known song when I was growing up, because the Muppets performed it.

  • I honestly don’t recall the music from that movie, so I can’t say. It’s been awhile.

  • I just listened to it. Yuck. Definitely not my kind of music. But what IS, really? haha.

  • I’ve been so busy at work that I haven’t had time to fully put my thoughts out there. I sound like an idiot on here.

    I should not have said vocals at all. Just established songs that come with “baggage”. Songs that have been part of our culture long before they appeared in the movie.

    Then again, it could be a brand new song(to me), and I still may not like it. Like movies that play some rap song to show how “hard” or badass the character is at the moment, or is becoming. Cliche, big time.

    Of course I can handle all sorts of vocals in movies. Epic choral chants over the final encounter between good and evil work pretty well.

    A sweet little humming ditty during a somber scene.
    It’s all very specific and subjective, I admit. It would be stupid of me to discount all of it, or any movie because of it. I just know that I have a bias(t) against it.

  • Bluejay

    Just established songs that come with “baggage”. Songs that have been part of our culture long before they appeared in the movie.

    Yeah, I suspected this was so. Depending on the song and how it’s used, I think the “baggage” can enhance a scene rather than detract from it. But again, it’s fine if you feel it doesn’t work for you.

    movies that play some rap song to show how “hard” or badass the character is… Cliche, big time. …Epic choral chants over the final encounter between good and evil work pretty well.

    Of course, an epic choir singing over the final battle is “cliche, big time,” as well. You just prefer some cliches over others. :-)

  • Oh, no doubt! Totally cliche at this point. I roll my eyes a little, but still kind of like it because that’s the kind of music I like. Instrumental and choral music. Piano, Violin. Powerful stuff.
    Anyway, thanks for the chat.

  • Danielm80

    I know I shouldn’t ask, but…you don’t recall “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Sound of Silence”? I feel so old.

  • I’m not known for my memory. haha

    Of course I know the Mrs Robinson song. I just forgot.

    I didn’t know Sound of Silence was in that movie.

    It’s a decent song. I actually prefer the modern remakes, like the one by Disturbed.

  • Danielm80

    I like the version by Disturbed much better than the original. It’s so portentous–and beautiful–that I don’t notice how dumb the lyrics are.

  • Bluejay

    Come on, man. “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls” is iconic. :-)

    The Disturbed version is great. I also like this one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HboNZ8HFF8

  • I can’t tell you more. But White does write for sites that court controversy (ie, the National Review at the moment) and/or run advertising. So pageviews matter.

  • Danielm80

    It may be–and I’m being serious here–that the song created the clichés I find so irritating decades later, kind of like the characters in Shakespeare’s plays who keep quoting familiar lines from Shakespeare. But the lyrics are still really dumb.

  • It is not *the* bar, it is only one thing I liked. Compared to the love interests in a lot of big studio movies, her prudent behavior (in that one instance) is worth noting.

    I was trying to avoid posting spoilers, but the big one that comes to mind is her grabbing a crowbar and whacking Buddy with it instead of waiting for him to come shoot her or Baby. She also worked with Baby to lure Buddy into a spot where Baby could ram him with another car. Weird blindness to Baby’s glaring faults aside, she acquitted herself well in the final showdown.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Er, true. Of course, it wasn’t a cliché back in 1967, but alas, this is not 1967.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Coming soon to a theatre near you:

    Quentin Tarantino’s Richard Corey, Woody Allen’s I Am a Rock and Robert Rodriguez’s El Condor Pasa (the latter not to be confused with the Guillermo del Toro movie of the same name.)

  • Tonio Kruger

    Heh. I’m old enough to remember getting hooked on Blood, Sweat and Tears because of the Muppets’ version of “Spinning Wheel” but somehow I missed that one. :-)

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It does feel like most saw a different movie than the one I did. But then, I’ve felt that way about both Guardians of the Galaxy. /shrug

  • 27B/6

    I am with you. There is one shot where Baby uses the car to hit a shopping cart and take out a cop(I think). That was cool. I thought there’d be more of that type of thing. Like a Buster Keaton movie with cars. But there really wasn’t. The characters are all cliché and boring which wouldn’t be a big deal if the movie was funny. But it’s not very funny or even trying to be. The only actor who I felt got the tone right was Kevin Spacey. He felt like a bad guy out of a Frank Capra film.

  • Again, I’m gonna go with the low bar. I mean, Marion Ravenwood hit that guy over the head with a frying pan, too…

  • Fair enough. I was just glad she wasn’t totally useless, given the source and tone of the movie.

  • Johnny B

    Great review. Terrible film. Don’t know what other reviewers could possibly have been raving about. Horrible dialogue.

  • John Thomspon

    That was exactly what I kept wanting to ask critics who wrote similar things, implying that the audience was somehow in on the “joke” of a formulaic plot.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’ve felt that way about a lot of movies and so have various friends and relatives.

  • Tonio Kruger

    SPOILERS

    Er. at the risk of sounding like Sheldon Cooper, I must point out that Ms. Ravenwood did a bit more than that..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R77zeidWG3E

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvQEJH_6kzs

    Willie Scott, on the other hand…

  • Caspar

    Great review. This movie is a giant turd. I have no idea why people like it. It sucks so bad.

  • Of *course* Marion did a lot more! But Debora does not.

  • LauraEnd

    I agree with your review. I just saw it and was sad that they didn’t develop the characters more. They didn’t give us enough of a reason to care about them or what happened to them.

  • Caspar

    Great review and spot on. This movie is a total piece of shit.

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