Sunday, June 11, 2017

BRINGING UP BABY DRIVER



If Damien Chazelle revived the contemporary musical with LA LA LAND  last year, writer-director Edgar Wright has reinvented the getaway driver/heist genre film by turning it into a musical actioner with his audacious, jaw-dropping BABY DRIVER.  It focuses on a young  getaway driver who needs the right music in order to do his job.  (The need goes back to an early trauma, but you'll find out all about that when you see the film.)  


I titled this post "Bringing Up Baby Driver" because, beneath its genre clothes, it's not only the story of Baby (actor Ansel Elgort) being the victim/product of trauma, but also because the movie is, at its core, Baby's coming of age story--Baby loses his naiveté and resignation and guard--he falls in love (or at least with the idea of love), and ultimately evolves from what Wright termed the equivalent of an "unpaid intern" to achieve moral development and become a man after being put through a series of what the writer-director called "morally sticky" narrative grinders.

Shelley wrote in his Defence of Poetry that "the great secret of morals is Love, or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own" (in short, empathy).  


The objective correlative of this identification for Baby is a lovely young waitress, Deborah (Lily James).  As such, she is more than a mere romantic interest.  It's as if she's an unattainable ideal for Baby.  When he first spies her, she's wearing headphones and singing a period "baby" song.  Since Baby is never without multiple iPods and earbuds, theirs is an inevitable connection.  (She also schools Baby on how to correctly pronounce the name of an older rock band, but I won't spoil that moment for you.)



But to get back to writer-director Edgar Wright (above left, in conversation with Elvis Mitchell post-screening of BABY DRIVER  at LACMA on June 9), Wright disclosed that the film had had its genesis when he was living in North London at age 21.  Wright had become obsessed with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's song "Bellbottoms" (as you might expect, it figures prominently in the film), which caused him to visually associate a car case.  Over the 22 years that followed, Wright came to the U.S., drove by himself from New York to L.A. 10 years ago, and began writing, listening to the music of "state-specific artists" as he passed through each border. (Wright did not seriously decide to actually make the film until 4 years ago, thinking he had given away the concept for the music video he'd made for Mint Royale in 2003): 



Wright then began doing research, interviewing ex-cons about robberies and getaway drivers.  (His "technical" consultant on the film is an actual ex bank robber turned writer [who'd pulled 30 heists], with whom Wright first met over coffee at an Intelligentsia in Pasadena, and who has a cameo in the film.)

An obvious influence on the film is Walter Hill's minimalist masterpiece THE DRIVER (starring Ryan O'Neal), notable for its iconic parking garage sequence.  Both getaway drivers are laconic (Hill's in a more existential way); some characters in BABY DRIVER (i.e, Jamie Foxx's "Bats") wonder if Baby is "slow" (aka "retarded").  Other films that Wright mentioned as influences were RESERVOIR DOGS, KILLING ZOE, and HEAT.  Members of the standout cast include the menacing Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Eliza González, John Bernthal, and...Flea.

In an article in IndieWire, Wright is quoted as saying that, "I took that premise that Hong Kong movies are musicals that have about five big numbers, it's [BABY DRIVER] five action set pieces, a song for each." Plus, of course, the requisite three heists for the robbery genre film.  And for Baby, the classic "one last job."  Right....

The action sequence that the film opens with is a tour de force.  And that's before the opening credits!  Our audience erupted with cheers and applause.  It's stunning.  The meticulously curated soundtrack, already available as a playlist on Spotify, is diverse and outstanding. The music is married to, or rather, the action is dependent upon, the songs.  Baby needs his mix tapes.  You need to see this movie.



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