Friday, July 21, 2017

Three Edgar Wright Films: Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Baby Driver

To the degree that the separation between comedy and drama remains relevant (or honest as far as award showology is concerned), Edgar Wright’s films generally gets placed in the comedy category which might be giving them short shrift. His genre parodies have a certain lightness to them when compared to the real thing but to call them laughter-inducing isn’t an accurate word (unless, of course, you are finding it ha-ha funny on first viewing). The only problem with shortchanging him is that there are so many other words to describe the unique appeal of Wright’s unique works:  kinetic, visually inventive, comfortable to genre watchers, and affectionate. And yes, there’s a decent amount of pure dramatic sediment that drives his stories first.  

The two films I’ve seen prior to Baby Driver- Hot Fuzz (2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) - are cacophonies of sound and action. The former is a buddy cop parody on overdrive. Like a Terry Gilliam film, the biggest draw is its visual invention. Like a kid playing with the rewind and forward buttons on a tape recorder (only a thousand times better), Wright’s affection for his subject is matched, perhaps overshadowed, by his love for telling a story. Simon Pegg’s arc - a determinator cop who needs to loosen up a little – hits its emotional notes but it’s more of a soft landing.

Scott Pilgrim is a hybrid adaptation of a comic and a cross-medium exploration merging conventions of films and video games. Michael Cera plays the titular character. He’s a bassist in a band and a hopeless romantic and despite looking and sounding like Michael Cera, he finds relatively good-looking women willing to date him and is considered hip amongst his small circle of friends in his small town (did I mention that the film is set in Toronto, the fourth largest city on the continent!?). Pilgrim finds an appropriate emo girl of his dreams but things start getting surreal when her seven exes show up and he must defeat them in videogame combat which is where the majority of the cool visual trickery comes in.

For some odd reason, everyone in the film is a manic pixie dream something (whether roommate, bandmate, sibling, standard Aubrey Plaza character or ex-girlfriend): Everyone in his life is incessantly interested in the news of his love life without ever having a need to share news of their own with him. Perhaps if the film is a meta-commentary on how video games are an exercise in egocentric empowerment, it’s fitting that Scott Pilgrim is at the center of his own universe. The mythology of this filmic universe is rich with parallels to video games that add a layer of depth and richness to the story. There’s also a thru-line of symbolism here about how romantic courtship with a damaged partner involves a metaphorical fight against their baggage. In short, there’s a lot of depth here. On top of that, it’s a movie about a guy asking a girl to love him (or whatever that line from “Notting Hill” is).

Like Wes Anderson and “Grand Budapest Hotel” or Richard Linklater and “Boyhood”, “Baby Driver” is the kind of film that has the potential to make Edgar Wright a player in the awards season and cement his place as an acclaimed director (again, as far as awards matter). Like the band OK Go’s YouTube career, Edgar Wright’s technical expertise is used for an entirely different magic trick: In this case, it’s attempting to stage the most ambitious car chases ever seen without use of green screen. At the same time, the film is rich with character work: Miles AKA Baby is an original creation with deep back story and the work by John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Lily James builds up the support significantly. More importantly, there’s a deep emotional component at play with Baby’s newfound love, his good will towards innocent civilians in dangerous situations, the hole in his life from his late mom, his care for his foster dad, and his emotional coming-of-age as a man of moral character. Baby's final surrender isn't just a nice combination of sound and music but something of an emotional meaning. 

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