Dream projects, have long been a point of discussion between intense film fans. Very often, someone will mention how Streets Of Fire, was something that had gestated for years before Walter Hill was ever given a green light. Same goes for Inception's decades long writing process, or the need to direct two successful Batman features before this could ever remotely be considered by a major studio. But for as long as I've known the name, Edgar Wright, I had long been aware of his struggle to have a music loving, ace driving kid running jobs as escape rides for criminals film produced. Even as his and Simon Pegg's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, became the vastly beloved series it is now, and Scott Pilgrim, the cult favorite that it continues to grow into, there remained these blurbs and soundbites about this one little project that for a brief moment had life as a Mint Royale music video. And never one to let a good idea go to waste, in the ether it waited.
That is until Marvel decided not to go with him on Ant-Man(2015).
Almost immediately after that controversial event, talks began to rumble about his project to a louder degree than ever before. Needless to say, I've been an ardent lover of his works since Shaun Of The Dead, helped solidify Wright's experiential stamp upon comedy cinema, with its wishes to be more than a referential work. It remains an document of what is possible when director, cast, and crew find themselves in the ultimate sandbox, and find themselves having the time of their lives. Watch it today, and that feeling is pretty hard to dispute. It remains astonishing in just how incredibly an action/horror/personal drama about at last facing responsibility could work so well without losing a single grasp of its pulse. And this kinetic, almost balletic approach to filmmaking has continued to be refined ever since. So that by the time of Scott Pilgrim, and World's End, it has come clear that Wright's specific brand of obsessive choreographed sight, sound, motion and wit has been honed into a language all its own.
Enter the world of Baby, a kid of few words, headphones ever in his ears, and one hell of a battery of driving skills. Orphaned at a young age, Baby has been surviving running a series of Atlanta bank jobs as driver for the mysterious, Doc(A loveable/hateable Kevin Spacey). An apparently powerful, and connected criminal entrepreneur who mixes and matches heist teams regularly. Owing Doc plenty after being found attempting to jack one of his own vehicles as a child, Baby has been accumulating stacks of cash, and hiding them beneath a floorboard at home, to the chagrin of his mute foster father, Joseph. Promising him that this upcoming hit is to be his last, Baby also finds time to fall almost instantly in love with Debora(Lily James), a waitress at a local diner. But his wishes for a new life, run brick wall into the cold reality that such talent becomes an addiction for some. Making matters worse, is a job that rapidly goes haywire, leaving Baby desperate to not only get out of the life, but save the lives of those he loves in the process. All while, depending on his valued iPod music mixes to assist his navigation through the furious action around him.
It's a plot that could very easily have stayed contained in a roughly five minute music clip. But what Wright again brings to the plate, is an intoxicating blend of choreographed car, as well as human mayhem, alongside his signature appreciation for music of the analog age. He grants Baby, a quiet, still innocent yet resolved demeanor despite the often despicable characters he is tasked with driving around. Not only do the tunes keep his driving sharp, it seems to work as a barrier against the often bitter, wounded creatures he is surrounded by. It's an innocence that is both appreciated and challenged by those around him. Baby, may have been working for some pretty bad people over the years, but his heart remains untouched. We see his humanity through his caring for old Joe, his instant rapport with Deborah, dancing with her in laundromats, and even attempting to help the innocent when things go really wrong on the job. Wright and company, grant Baby's world a well-rounded moral landscape for his to grow through as we gather more clues about his days with a family, before driving even became the defining characteristic of his life.
Meanwhile, Doc's swapping and switching of job personnel, isn't going so hot as regulars Buddy(Jon Hamm), and Darling(Eiza Gonzalez) have begun to lose faith in impulsive new teammate, Bats(Jamie Foxx) as a new job looms. Tension mounts as it becomes clear that this new batch, isn't quite so easy to strike a workable rapport. And just as Baby is beginning to see an end to the rainbow, the genre screws of the entire film begin to tighten, allowing the story to shift from your classic Wright formula, into something altogether new. And while it took a few moments to gather proper bearings as to what was being attempted, in comes a lurching feeling that as a film, Baby Driver, comes off as sort of a gateway to a new era of the director's output. The humor remains, albeit with perhaps a darker tone sans the emotional wrecking ball of World's End. The stakes reach a point to where the comedy takes a backseat to Baby, with the help of Deb, improvising a path removed from the safety of all previous comforts.
It is ultimately a coming of age story, with cars, guns, and an assured sense of play against genre expectation, which makes it work despite some minor tone and pace hiccups. It's easily one of Wright's more emotionally slight works, which is a little of a whiff. But with so many riches coming out from every other conceivable pore, it's hard to fault it. The man's films are an often meticulous celebration of analog possibility, overstuffed with easter eggs, and technical wizardry that is near impossible to witness anywhere else. Even when it doesn't tug at the heart as previous efforts go, it remains a great example of what could happen with a simple idea borne out of something so personal. After 22 years of dreaming, it's perhaps the best possible time for Baby Driver. Now to find out where his busy, inventive mind seems to be charting new course.