Edgar Wright is a Boss: Baby Driver

I’m not talking about your pigtails, I’m just talking ’bout your sex appeal. I hit the road and I was gone.” – Simon and Garfunkel,

Baby Driver 5

Edgar Wright is one of the most interesting directors working today. Growing up I never paid attention much to directors, other than truly big names like Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese.  Looking back into the movies I loved in my youth, directors like Tony Scott and Richard Donner sure played a huge influence in my developing love for the movies, but I didn’t know who they were at the time.  It was two directors, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, that made me start paying attention to just how much of a movie happens behind the camera.  Clerks and Pulp Fiction, both released in 1994 when I was a Sophmore in High School, opened my eyes to new forms of story telling and style (and vulgarity).  Fast forward to now and my current passion for films has me very focused on different and unique directors, and Edgar Wright is in any top ten list I might decide to make.

Edgar Wright really doesn’t have a large body of work.  Shaun of the dead came out almost 15 years ago, and his signature works get tied together in a moch/meta grouping called the Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and At The Worlds End).  Outside of those three, Writght only has one other proper directing credit, Scott Pilgram vs. The World.  Perhaps the thing Wright is most known for in recent Hollywood news is being booted from the Marvel Antman film he was tapped to direct a few years ago.  That movie, while pretty much an average Marvel origin story, shows flashes of the Edgar Wright brilliance many of his fans loved about his previous work, myself included. There are enough Wright-esque moments actually that it will always be an asterisk on his filmography, because 20 years from now it won’t show up, but Wright fans will tell the story every time some talks about the cool briefcase scene.

Baby Driver 1So enter Baby Driver.  From the first trailer I was committed to seeing this movie, and figured I’d probably find cause to write about it.  In honor of the film I am writing this with ear buds in and loud music coursing thought them at inappropriately high volume. I’m not offering up a simple review but a dive into an element of the film that really struck me as interesting, the amazing music and sound editing.

Edgar Wright is interesting not because of the stories he tells, but the way in which he tells them.  While his other movies have a little more humor than Baby Driver, the plot he develops here is interesting, but not deep or ground breaking.  Everything about the story you have seen before, good kid stuck in a bad situation tries t get out, meets a girl, gets sucked back in, etc.  But what makes an Edgar Wright film an event is the style with which he tells his stories.  He is a modern day master of the quick cut, never leaving a sense of choppy-ness or unease, but rather confident synchronicity .  His edits, set to clever song selections, create something seamless where the ears and eyes are in such concert with each other that a unique feeling of joy and satisfaction can’t help but settle in.  It’s not just that it’s fast of course, it is that it is clean, and bright.  Many movie soundtracks choose songs that set the mood, or that respond to the mood being created by the actors on screen.  Wright chooses to focus on the rhythm of the music and the action on screen to find synergy.

“If you look at Hong Kong cinema, Jackie Chan and John Woo, they both point to Gene Kelly and MGM musicals as one of the biggest influences,” said Wright (in an Indiewire Interview). “I took that premise that Hong Kong movies are musicals that have about five big numbers, it’s five action set pieces, a song for each. Then I would [write each action scene] to the songs.”

Something about listening to fast rock music while watching chaotic action is fun, but when the gun shots suddenly fall in sync with the snare taps and bass thumps, you know you are watching a production that was put together by someone who has a vision, cares about the details and cares about the emotion he is trying to convey.

In Baby Driver it is taken one step further.  The relationship between what you hear and what you see is used to tell the story at another level.  We are treated to maybe the best moment of the film right out of the gate: Baby’s first drive of the film.  It’s set to The John Spencer Blues Explosion song Bell-bottoms and it’s simply a pleasure to watch and listen to. What we learn from this is that when Baby’s life is in the groove, his music and his movements are perfectly aligned. As the movie unfolds, we see that the more dissonant his life becomes, the less aligned he is with his music.  Near the end there are some action scenes where it is not Baby, but his violent criminal counterparts, whose actions align with the soundtrack during a moment when they are in the groove.  Perhaps the thing that would have cement this movie as an A+ for me would be a snap back at the end, something to echo the opening.

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Baby Driver is not a perfect movie by any stretch, but none of his movies are. If this film has an undoing actually, it is that in the third act it doesn’t quite come full circle on the style I described in as gratifying a way as it probably could.  The story resolves fine enough, but this film is not about the story, its about the style, and I wanted just a little more style at the conclusion.  Some critics have beat up Baby Driver, and Wright, for being all about style over substance, but I say what.  Some movies are meant to be cultural touchstones that capture a moment in time or tell a story that can be passed through generations, like Fruitvale Station or Beasts of No Nation.  Some films however are just straight art, and its the style that makes them that way.  The film world didn’t need another wheel man heist movie, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t need Baby Driver and Edgar Wright.

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