'Baby Driver': The Joy Of The All-Original Summer Flick
On July 16 2017, one out the top-five films in the world was a non-sequel, non-reboot, non-superhero, non-franchise, non-adaptation film. Of the top-ten, there were four. Which means 60% of the most popular films last week were derived from previously existing material, and consequently benefited from some goodwill beyond their own merit.
Hollywood is show business, and smart business dictates that past successes point the way to future ones. It's not a good or bad thing. Heck, the rationale has been around a while. Of the top-ten grossing films of 2007, only 3 were non-sequels, and none of the ten was a complete original. The formula as it exists simply means we have to work harder to find the original good stuff. Yes, it's still getting made, but it's a rarity, and a gamble.
This is why we need to talk about the film at the top of the all-original films last week; writer-director Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. Wright's penchant for subverting genres has gone from novelty to expectation. He previously infused fresh genius to the zombie, cop and disaster genre in the Cornetto Trilogy, and made an unforgettable video game/comic book adaptation in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Now, here he is working that same magic in this version of a caper film, and it's a hell of a ride.
Baby Driver (also the name of the lead character, played by former young adult film staple Ansel Elgort) is a college-age man possessed with a hearing impediment, an exceptional mastery behind the wheel, and that millennial social awkwardness that's all the rage now. He works odd jobs, as anyone his age would, but because this is cinema, he is also indebted to Doc (Spacey), an Atlanta crime boss whose heists invariably end in furious cop chases. Baby's talent make him an invaluable part of Doc's team. In fact, he is the only permanent member of his ring of hoodlums, whom he switches around like the songs on Baby's omniscient iPods. When Baby has completed his run of compensatory jobs, and just as he's succeeding at falling in love, Doc invites him to last stickup. As stories of these sort go, it's the heist where everything happens, and Wright takes the film to levels of action, comedy and drama that vibrate in remarkable synchrony.
Like I said, Wright knows full well that a premise of that sort is not enough. He has a riveting story, excellent dialogue and fully-formed characters down. To that he adds a brilliantly curated soundtrack, to which every action sequence seemed choreographed (seriously, every punch, crash, thud and gunshot plays out in perfect 4/4 time), and he choreographs the most enthralling action sequences of 2017 so far. The vehicular mayhem runs multiple tyre burns around, say, Furious 8, and as is rare in the summer action film, a genuine concern is maintained for all the characters, good and bad. Like Wright's previous work, this film pays homage to cinema, TV and pop culture. Its visuals are chockfull of in-story easter eggs and callbacks to his previous films, ensuring that Baby Driver guarantees itself several future viewings.
Wright is one of the few Hollywood directors (we can call him that now, right?), whose career has found the sweet spot between personal virtuosity and commercial success. He follows the likes of Nolan, Vaughn, DuVernay and Bigelow; the calibre of directors who give us truly inventive gems in the sea of box-office tedium. Yes, the stuff we're paying to see has its merits, but surely audiences deserve more. God bless them for being consistent.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, if we went back another ten years to the summer of 1997, of the top-ten films, seven were originals.
Check here for screening venues and times for Baby Driver.
Baby Driver (2017)
Written and Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily Gonzalez, C.J. Jones, Lily James and Jamie Foxx.