What a Ride

Hop In, Hang On & Rock Out With ‘Baby Driver’

Ansel ElgortBaby Driver
Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx & Eiza Gonzalez
Directed by Edgar Wright

If you need a ride, get an Uber, use Lyft or hail a taxi. But if you really want to get there in a jif, book Baby.

Baby (Ansel Elgort from The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent film series) is the best in the biz, especially if the business is robbery. Nobody drives a getaway car like him. In the movie’s stupefying opening sequence, after his trio of heist passengers (Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal) knock over a bank, Baby cuts, drifts, skids and slides in a souped-up red Subaru through the streets of downtown Atlanta, always just ahead of a column of pursuing cops.

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Eiza Gonzalez;Jamie Foxx

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm

Unflappably cool behind his shades, Baby is the quiet type—extremely quiet. He rarely speaks, and he’s always got his earbuds in, listening to music on one of his several iPods. “You know why they call him Baby?” says Hamm’s character, Buddy. “They’re still waiting for his first words.” Baby drives for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the icy kingpin of a motley, murderer’s row crew of thieves.

We learn Baby’s backstory, about the childhood tragedy that left him with tinnitus—the “hum in the drum”—that he tries to constantly drown out with his tunes, and about the incident that left him so deeply in debt to Doc that he’s still digging out with his servitude.

Baby is the driver in Baby Driver, but it’s music—a bountiful, supercharged spectrum of R&B, classic rock, nu-metal, funk and soul—that drives the movie. And we hear everything just as Baby does; his personal playlist is the soundtrack. And in a twist on how music is typically used, the scenes in Baby Driver were structured, filmed and “choreographed” to the music, not vice versa, where music is added to a scene after it’s shot and edited.

Kevin Spacey;Ansel Elgort

Kevin Spacey

Music pervades the film. A shot of a spinning washing machine fades into a spinning record on a turntable. Baby pauses after hot-wiring a stolen getaway car on a freeway ramp to find just the right jam on the vehicle’s radio. When he’s not behind the wheel, he makes his own homemade beats from snippets of conversation he captures on a portable recorder.

Baby Driver is almost like a radical movie musical, as if La La Land collided with Mad Max by way of Quentin Tarantino. When Baby walks to get coffee, everything he does and encounters—car horns, sirens, street musicians, door openings—punctuates the song he’s hearing, “Harlem Shuffle.” Later, the explosive blasts of a shootout match the tune in Baby’s ears, “Tequila.” Car chases become grand theft rock ’n’ roll operas, all done without special effects or CGI, just plain, old-fashioned, fantastically planned-out, high-octane stunt driving, scored to Queen, The Damned, Young MC and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

The movie has many, many more songs, from Martha and the Vandellas, Sam and Dave, Barry White and The Commodores, to Focus, T. Rex, Golden Earring and a cascade of more arcane acts. And there’s the 1969 Simon & Garfunkel track from which the movie takes its title.

A heartbreaking backstory explains how Baby got to be such an obsessive music lover.

Not everyone understands his need for tuneage, especially when driving a speeding car during a dangerous job with mega-money on the line. “You don’t need a score for a score,” says Bats (Jamie Foxx), Doc’s thuggish go-to for high-stakes holdups, gesturing to his own head. “I got enough demons right here, playing all the time.”

Ansel Elgort;Lily JamesBaby meets a beautiful waitress, Debora (Lily James, from Downton Abbey and Disney’s Cinderella), who has a dream of wanting “to head west…in a car I can’t afford with a plan I don’t have.” Debora tells Baby she has an older sister, Mary, who got all the good songs, like “Proud Mary,” “Hello Mary Lou” and The Monkees’ “Mary, Mary.” She tells Baby, admiringly, that “Every song is about you.”

When Doc and his plans come between Baby and Debra, and Bats and Buddy start stomping on Baby’s tender heartstrings, watch out.

British writer-director Edgar Wright, best known for his cheeky, comedic-parody trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, has made an absolute knockout popcorn flick, destined to become a cult classic. It’s a wildly inventive, sleek, stylish mashup of car chases, pedal-to-the-medal action, dreamy young love, obsessive passions, rockin’ tunes, street-level action and bang-bang, shoot-’em-up thrills that makes The Fast and The Furious franchise look fat, bloated and blown-out by comparison. And it’s clever and funny; some confusion about disguises—Mike Myers from Austin Powers or Michael Myers from Halloween?—is hilarious.

CJ Jones, who really is deaf, plays Baby’s deaf father figure, Joe. Diminutive actor-songwriter Paul Williams shows up briefly, as does Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

So hop in, hang on and rock out—and let Baby to the driving!

In theaters June 28, 2017

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