Baby Driver is a heist movie. This means that like all the other ones, it has a “crew”. In addition to the “mastermind”, the crew usually has a bunch of specialists for the myriad tasks that are part of any half-decent heist. Our story focuses on the “getaway driver” specialization à la the “Transporter” range of movies.
Our main guy in this case is “Baby”, a kid in his late teens or early twenties. He has a bunch of peculiarities that makes the rest of the crew all uneasy. Specifically, he has tinnitus in his ears due to a childhood accident with a gunshot. This same accident is also part of the reason why he was orphaned. To counter this consistent high pitched scream in his ears, he is always listening to all kinds of music on his iPods. Yes, more than one of them. Apparently this is another thing that he’s developed an obsession for, ever since the accident. He also has the rather uncanny ability to read lips while conveniently rocking out to them tunes. And finally, his Unique Selling Proposition is the ability to get out of any situation unscathed, as long as he’s the one behind the wheel.
Anyway, in the movie’s own words, our Baby jacks the wrong guy’s Mercedes, leaving him plenty impressed. Instead of having him snuffed, Mr. Bad Guy makes Baby his bitch. We see a few demo heists that set up the usual routine of the gang, the last of which also signifies the end of the debt that Baby owes. While all this is happening, we also see Baby strike up an equally peculiar romance with a waitresss he meets at the diner.
But as always, it is difficult to leave that life behind. Mr. Bad Guy has no interest in letting such a talent as Baby’s go to rot and wants him to continue working for him. Baby wants out but can’t. Fortunately for him, the next job is a beeeg one and the entire gang is cooped up in the safehouse, the night before the heist. Baby makes incredibly ill prepared and ad-hoc plans to secretly ditch the heist and escape with his girl. However, his gang is equally paranoid and pounces on him as he is leaving under the cover of night. They grill him until they’re satisfied that he’s not going to bail on them. This is of course a bad start to any heist and just the first in the series of botches that follow. During the getaway, Baby’s goodness gets the better of him and he betrays the gang. Everyone turns on everyone else and Mr. Bad Guy’s safehouse becomes the venue for the showdown. Mr. Bad Guy also has a last-minute moment of kindness and sacrifices his own life to help Baby and his girlfriend escape. One-by-one, Baby kills or lets everyone die, before finally getting caught by the police. He is given a light sentence, thanks to all the good samaritans he prevented from getting killed during his heists. After conveniently serving this, his girlfriend picks him up at the prison and they live happily ever after. At least, that’s the implication.
On first impression, the movie feels like someone has plopped a runny plot on top of racing music videos. It hinges on the belief that a good car chase, backed by some vintage music is enough to make a movie interesting. This is of course false, as the movie itself ends up proving.
The film’s obsession with music is grounded in the titular character: Baby. His only motivation is to drown out all the chaos in his life and freely drive on the wide open roads, with music in his ears. We’re regularly treated to elaborately choreographed scenes of Baby getting lost in song or dance while doing otherwise mundane things like fetching coffee or making a sandwich. We see that music is the only meaning that Baby has in his life and he pursues it, often to the apparent exclusion of everything else.
Baby is also the only character where any attempt at development is made. All the other characters are static tropes, underdeveloped to the point of being forgetful. This includes Baby’s girlfriend who has no agency but to simply listen to whatever vague instructions Baby might fling in her direction. Mr. Bad Guy also has a completely unexplained change of heart where he’s willing to sacrifice his life for Baby and his girlfriend. The other crew members: Buddy and the maniacal “Bats”, seem to keep getting on each others nerves, the entire sub-plot for which is abandoned midway.
The screenplay also switches gears as abruptly as Baby does in his car, which makes you wonder if it was written by an inexperienced writer. Often things seem to be present only because they were thought to be “cool”, without any real bearing on the plot or the character.
I am not ungrateful for introducing audiences to some amazing 70s music, but I expect more from my movies than just a playlist. This is not just a heist gone bad, it is a heist movie gone sad.