Fast cars with spoilers

Spoiler alert: Today’s post is about the film Baby Driver, which has been out in theaters since June 28. I’m not giving away the ending, but I do describe the film on a structural level. So if you’re planning to see it, and haven’t yet, you might want to hold off on reading this post.

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Edgar Wright. The artful way he mixes genres, as in horror with comedy/bromance in Shaun of the Dead or coming of age flick with video game in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is always inventive and fun and exciting to watch.

But in Baby Driver he takes genre mixing to an entirely new level. To my surprise, none of the reviews I’ve read of this film seemed to have caught on to just what this writer/director is up to here.

Going way beyond merely mixing genres, Baby Driver makes the film itself a battle between genres. Each of the main characters believes him/herself to be in a genre film of a particular sort. Much of the dramatic tension in the film comes from the fact that different characters believe they are in very different genre movies.

Kevin Spacey’s character believes he’s presiding over a heist film, in the spirit of Rififi. Jamie Foxx’s character believes he is starring in a nihilistic violent crime-spree film, in the spirit of Natural Born Killers. Eiza Gonz├ílez and John Hamm’s characters think they are starring in Bonnie and Clyde. But the characters played by Ansel Elgort and Lily James know that they are really in a bittersweet coming of age romantic musical.

Much of both the humor and suspense of the film derive from this genre clash. In many scenes the characters are confused by one other, each reacting as though somebody from a completely different movie had somehow wandered onto their set. The only person who is rarely confused is Baby, perhaps because he knows that we are really there to watch him.

One by one, each of the supporting characters finds out that this is not his or her movie — first Jamie Foxx, then Eiza Gonz├ílez, then John Hamm, and finally Kevin Spacey. The moment near the end when Kevin Spacey’s character suddenly realizes that he’s actually in somebody else’s movie, and that this is really a sweet teen romance after all, is completely priceless.

Spacey plays the moment with subtle humor and a charming lilt of graceful resignation. It’s as though he is saying “Well ok, now that I know this isn’t going to be my movie, I’ll be a sport and help you finish your movie.”

In short, this isn’t really a genre film — it’s a film about genre films. That’s a brilliant conceit, and for me it totally worked.

One Response to “Fast cars with spoilers”

  1. Cynthia Allen says:

    BABY DRIVER — Interesting Interview with Edgar Wright on the MUSIC

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