The lessons to learn from “Baby Driver” (vs. the ones Hollywood will try to learn)
“Baby Driver” is a great film filled with fun characters, a wonderful cast, handled brilliantly by an under-appreciated director. It nearly made back its entire production budget in an admittedly long weekend; and, it’s worth noting, that budget is small ($34 million).
That won’t stop beguiled executives in Hollywood from asking: “how the fuck do we start doing this instead of ‘the parade of overpriced flops we keep rolling out?” The answer might seem simple to you, but it’s not if you’re entrenched in the studio system that got you the seven-figure gig.
Allow me to oversimplify “the problem” in Hollywood right now. Ignore that I begged the question right there by even referring to the system as “Hollywood,” since the film production business could just as readily be referred to as “Atlanta,” “Austin,” “China,” or “London” in 2017. Thank you.
Here’s the deal: Tom Cruise doesn’t sell movies like he used to. Franchises don’t do what they used to, either. Studios know they need to find a balance between a decent movie with likable actors, and a great marketing campaign to get into audience’s busy lives. Or maybe the formula isn’t quite that straightforward at all.
Enter “Baby Driver,” a film that cost next to nothing and will be an excellent return on investment for Sony (Tri-Star, a subsidiary of Sony distributed the film). So why did this Edgar Wright film work when so many before it failed? And why did a film starring Ansel Elgort (who?) as a practically mute getaway driver in Atlanta get the job done when a can’t-miss-franchise with fighting robots didn’t?
Because “Baby Driver” is fun. It’s a LOT of fun, in fact. The R-rated heist film’s central romance is a can of Coke (no, Pepsi will not be okay) and Elgort plays up the music to 11 with a couple of little dance sequences that almost make the film feel like a musical. Wright toes the line expertly, giving “Baby Driver” the stakes it needs to feel real while making it the most fun movie of the Summer (though “Spider-Man Homecoming” has a shot to steal that title in a week, I suppose).
This is also different than anything I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s not the sourced audio that makes “Baby Driver” unique (and no, that didn’t make “Guardians of the Galaxy” unique, either); it’s how well the music, the dialogue and the action marry together onscreen. Everything flows beautifully in the film: just like one of “Baby’s” signature car chases.
Unlike Fast and the Furious, which ratchets up intensity and drama, “Baby” plays things a little looser and lighter. There are dark moments (and it’d be a worse movie if there weren’t), but the color palette keeps a light, poppy tone and it’s a better film for it. If anything, watching “Baby Driver” made me all the more heartbroken we never got to see Wright’s take on “Ant-Man.”
Let’s bring it full circle, since I’ve touched on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Studios will see “Baby Driver,” a low-budget thriller with a few names (Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx) and see the opportunity to mimic its success in a couple of key ways: the soundtrack, the stars and the tone.
That’s a mistake. Here’s why “Baby Driver” works: The characters are a blast, the story is good and you root for Baby. Everything else is window dressing. Seeing Hamm and Foxx play Elgort’s garbage dads is fun, but unnecessary; the soundtrack is killer, but just adds to a great experience; and the tone of the film is thanks to a great director.
Here’s what I’m getting at: When studios see films like “Guardians” and “Baby Driver” and mimic the wrong thing, you end up with “Suicide Squad.” That’s not the worst movie in the world by any means, but it’s also the film these executives are trying to avoid. As always, learning the right lessons from a flop (or a success) is important. It’s also not easy.
Best of luck out there. Oh, and go see “Baby Driver.” It’s a good one.