Review/Rant: Baby Driver, the Perfect Response to Mainstream Comedy

Edgar Wright is one of the most underrated contemporary filmmakers. That is not to say that he doesn’t already have a good reputation in the world of cinema, it’s just that his films seem to get overlooked and passed off because of their substance and/or genre. Now, personally, this doesn’t make any sense to me at all. A vast majority of critics seem to have a preference for style over substance, whereas I – as a hopeful writer – am typically the other way around. That being said, most of the cinema world praises Wright for his work, but does very little when it comes to rewarding that work because of a bias against comedy films that needs to be examined.

Wait… is Bryce seriously calling out other critics for their bias against comedy films? Did I read that right? Yes, yes you did. When it comes to the filmmaking process, almost nobody makes films like Edgar Wright, especially in the world of comedy movies. If you’d rather see a video about this topic than listen to me talk about it, then I suggest you watch this video below.

Here’s the too-long-didn’t-watch summary of the video: regardless of how much you may enjoy these movies, contemporary comedy films (particularly American ones) are awful. Do I mean that to say that they aren’t funny? Well, no… even though I don’t think they are. The difference between an Edgar Wright film and say, a Paul Feig film, is that Wright and his crew have fun making their films by pouring their creativity into every aspect of the film. In contrast, the only “creativity” in mainstream comedy comes from the actors and their performances. As Tony says in his video, these comedy films aren’t really films, they’re just heavily edited and very long improv sketches. It’s really not that surprising when you consider the fact that SNL seems to be a right-of-passage for comedy actors and writers alike in mainstream American comedy. Think about it, all of today’s biggest comedy stars – Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Andy Samberg, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, even Adam-friggin-Sandler – first made their mark in the world of comedy on SNL. While there are exceptions, SNL has been praised for churning out some of the greatest comedic performers and writers for nearly five decades now, and these graduates go on to dominate the world of Hollywood comedy. If we continue to allow sketch performers and writers to dominate, then we shouldn’t expect anything other than films that are basically 2-hour long SNL sketches.

I realize a lot of movie-goers are perfectly fine with this, but it is obvious that critics and most cinema lovers (such as myself) are not. How is it obvious? What’s the last pure-comedy film you remember receiving recognition at either the Oscars or the Golden Globes? The Golden Globes even has an award for “Best Musical or Comedy Picture,” but the only real comedies that have won this award in the past 17 years are The Grand Budapest Hotel (2015) andThe Hangover (2010). Before 2010 the last one to win was arguably Mrs. Doubtfire (1994). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a real comedy movie even receive a nomination at the Oscars; Juno (2008) might be the only one (no, Woody Allen movies do not count).

Here’s the point: nobody that goes into the world of cinema with the intent to make comedy films ever expects to be liked by critics and awards shows. This is because it has been ages since the comedy genre was driven by comedic filmmakers rather than the actors and writers that dominate it now. It’s not that these films are getting passed up by judges and critics, it’s that nobody is making any worth considering! There are too few people looking to stir up the stagnant waters of mainstream comedy in film.

Cinema is where comedy goes to sellout in the present day. In terms of financial gain, TV, standup, sketch, improv, and even YouTube all together wouldn’t be able to lay a finger on comedy movies. However, these smaller comedic platforms dominate the progression of comedy itself and leave film in the dust. Edgar Wright has grown tired of film taking backseat and counting its money while the rest of the comedy world pushes onward; he is someone who wants to stir these waters, and it’s high-time he got the recognition he truly deserves.

Now that I’m finished with my rant, let’s talk about his latest film, Baby Driver.

Writing: 7.8/10

If outlandish, forced, and “dumb” comedy is your slice of the pie, then you will not think this movie is as funny as I do. What is passed off in mainstream comedy as “Character Comedy” is not really Character Comedy. Character Comedy is establishing a unique character and allowing jokes to naturally form from their personality. Here’s a good example: it is established that Ed (Nick Frost) in Shaun of the Dead (2004) is a bad influence on Shaun because all he wants to do is play video games and go to the local pub for drinks. This then leads Ed and Shaun to deciding that the pub is the best place to go during the zombie apocalypse. Here’s a bad example (from a movie I like, so that I’m “playing fair”): Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) in The Other Guys (2010) is an ultra-naïve desk jockey that works for the NYPD. At one point in the film, it is revealed that he was once a pimp that went by the street name “Gator” in college. Here, the joke comes from the shock of learning that Allen used to be involved in a lifestyle that is nearly opposite of the one he lives now. This is not a naturally formed joke, it’s one that is forced in by the writers.

Edgar Wright and friends storming the League of Hollywood Comedy 
Edgar Wright and friends storming the League of Hollywood Comedy 

There are no forced jokes in Baby Driver. It relies entirely on its characters and the interactions between them for the written humor (emphasis on the written), and there are quite a few great moments where the written humor shines.

The story itself is this movie’s weakest point, though it is certainly not “weak.” It’s about a young guy, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is a terrific stunt driver that works for a professional thief. Baby is genuinely a good kid, but his line of work puts him in close proximity to some pretty shady people. His efforts to leave his life of crime behind are constantly hindered by threats of violence. Long story short, conflict ensues when Baby takes what he believes to be his last opportunity to finally escape. It’s a fairly straightforward plot, but it often finds itself distracted by events that might seem mundane in the midst of bank robberies, shootouts, and tense confrontation. This is honestly the only negative thing I have to say about the film.

Acting: 7.6/10

Ansel Elgort and Lily James take the helm as this film’s male and female leads. Both are young and relatively inexperienced. Ansel definitely takes some ques from Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive (2011), but this is a much more fun film, so don’t expect him to be entirely silent. Lily James is decent, though her part in the script is smaller compared to others. The two younger leads – while not bad – are the two least impressive performances.

The cast's reaction after someone farted and no one knows whodunit.
The cast’s reaction after someone farted and no one knows whodunit.

Jon Hamm (known for his lead role in AMC’s Mad Men) and Jamie Foxx (known for his role as Ed in The Truth About Cats and Dogs) are showstoppers as two of Baby’s co-workers. Foxx reels in even more badassery from his great performance in Django Unchained and eats up the screen with his intimidating dialogue and presence. Hamm doesn’t have as much screen time, but his character takes a sharp 180 degree turn that is without a doubt the best part of the film.

The rest of the cast is limited in terms of screen-time, but there is not one cast member not worth an honorable mention. Two that I specifically need to give shout-outs to are CJ Jones as Joseph and Kevin Spacey (of course) as Doc.

Visuals: 9.6/10

Baby (offscreen) admits that he is the one that farted.
Baby (offscreen) admits that he is the one that farted.

No film is more fun to watch visually than an Edgar Wright film. This is easily the highest score I’ve ever given in this category because Wright refuses to limit himself in the way he makes his film. I could write a 15-page essay on what makes Wright different from other directors, but I’ll use some self-control here and limit myself to just a couple. First of all, the vast majority of humor comes from visual jokes rather than written ones. No, this does not mean Baby Driver is a slapstick comedy. Secondly, his films are carefully edited to produce terrific action sequences and near perfect comedic timing (this will also tie into the next category). And finally, Wright has more fun making his films than anyone else in the world. He doesn’t really care if a certain choice he makes is going to produce a laugh or not, because he just wants to try it. Animation cannot be beat when it comes to visual comedy, but Wright comes pretty damn close.

Music: 9.2/10

Jon Hamm (right) asking Ansel Elgort what he thought of the new Jay-Z album.
Jon Hamm (right) asking Ansel Elgort what he thought of the new Jay-Z album.

This category’s score isn’t extremely high for the music choices alone (which are still pretty good). It’s high because Wright literally created this film around his music choices. Cuts, scene changes, dialogue, footsteps, and even gunshots, are in sync with the music. Music is quite literally the heartbeat and backbone of this movie’s structure. If you’ve seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), then you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about, except Wright takes this film ten steps even further.

X-Factor: 9/10

You simple suckers been served a notice: there ain’t no Hocus Pocus in Baby’s Focus

Overall: 8.7/10

I sincerely apologize that I had to wait this long to get this review out, but I’ve been having trouble with my transportation (as in my ability to actually go to the movie theater) as well as my internet service (as in my ability to actually write reviews and post them). I hope this review isn’t too late. I would strongly suggest to anyone that they go see this movie ASAP. Everyone will find something to enjoy about this film. I say that because an 8.6 is the score that I gave La La Land even though I knew that there would still be a good amount of people that might not enjoy it very much. This movie is not like that; if you don’t enjoy yourself at this movie, then I’d say you purposefully went in wanting to not like it, just to spite me.

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