Baby Driver is the film with the best score since Pulp Fiction.
Although other films like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Jason Reitman’s Juno and Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation have used pop songs to great effect, the movie Edgar Wright wrote and directed uses its music as a plot point.
From the moment the tinnitus-plagued driver “Baby” played by Ansel Elgort, plugs the Jon Spencer Blues’ Explosion’s Bell Bottoms into his iPod to the point he listens to his mum (in reality Sky Ferreira) sing The Commodores’ Easy, Baby Driver is a joy ride with the volume on ten and even the speakers on the back turned up..
Even the dialogue is music related as the lead couple – Baby and Debora discuss songs around their names as an excuse to air consecutive Debra songs by T-Rex and Beck.
Wright drops the perfect mix of rock, roll and soul with nothing overstaying its welcome.
Queen’s Brighton Rock from Sheer Heart Attack, Blur’s doleful piano Intermission from Modern Life Is Rubbish (an album which sold under 19,000 copies in the States), a joke around Egyptian reggae as an excuse for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Jon Hamm singing along to Barry White’s best song Never Gonna Give You Up, the film works because the music does.
And if you don’t have the yodelling in Focus’ Hocus Pocus as an ear worm for days afterwards, your iron will is saluted.
But why does it work? There are film directors who have written about music in the past, most notable among them Cameron Crowe, and there are directors who have made their name making pop videos (David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Francis Laurence) and musicians who’ve ended up as film directors (Damien Chazelle, Gore Verbinski). But not one of their films, with the possible exception of Crowe’s Almost Famous, has pulled off this high-wire act like Wright has on Baby Driver.
Maybe it’s because he dated a musician, Ash’s Charlotte Hatherley, as well as an actress who is no slouch in film musical roles, Anna Kendrick from Sondheim’s Into the Woods and the Pitch Perfect movies.
Perhaps it’s because he kicked his heels between movies making music videos for Mint Royale, The Bluetones, Hatherley and Pharrell Williams among others.
Or worked in TV with comedians like Bill Bailey, David Walliams & Matt Lucas, Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders, and of course Simon Pegg & Nick Frost on Spaced and then the Cornetto trilogy. Comedians and musicians have plenty in sync from the importance of rhythm, improvisation and partying to the best ones being able to work a room from downstairs in a pub to an enormodome.
The fact he’s cast Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, two actors with musicality hardwired into them (ask Kanye West or the estate of Bobby Darrin), doesn’t hurt.
It might be his age. If you can remember the Sixties, maybe you weren’t there or insist on hitting viewers over the head with it every chance you get. That’s how you end up with The Doors. Wright was born in 1974, the year of Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Grievous Angel and Court & Spark. He belongs to the age bracket who grew up with iPods when disposable income was arriving, where your record collection was jumbled together, liking hip hop and rock was no big deal – as opposed to previous or subsequent generations which fixated on genre. Coming from a generation under Quentin Tarantino (Wright moved to London the year Pulp Fiction and Parklife/Definitely Maybe came out), Wright can confidently set chases to both Young MC’s Know How and a relatively deep cut from Queen, Brighton Rock from Sheer Heart Attack. He knows it’ll fly. And every choice does.
Or it could be that the producers just finally gave a man the opportunity to put The Detroit Emeralds, The Damned, Golden Earring, Carla Thomas, Run the Jewels and Simon & Garfunkel (whose song provided the title’s inspiration) into a movie.
They should do that more often.