Dear Mr. Wright,
I hope you will forgive my boldness in writing, though it is my hope you’ll find my feedback consistent with the spirit of dialog with which you opened your film Baby Driver. Your direct address to the audience–informal and conversational as it was–implied the sort of rapport between creator and viewer that might welcome an letter in response.
As a long-time consumer of your work, I took seriously your desire to address me directly, thanking me for viewing your work in the theater, as “it was meant to be seen.” Your thanks were clearly not lightly given as they both included commentary on the value of experiencing cinema in full spectrum size and volume and a collegial recognition that it is a special sort of viewer these days who can pry herself from her couch to honor a true cinematic experience. I hope here to share with you some thoughts that are also not lightly given, and that reflect in me this very capacity you’ve recognized with warmth: a capacity to give film it’s due.
Perhaps in our shared affinity for film we are not so different, and indeed I will confess it pains me a bit to address you here as “Mr. Wright” when there was such a time as I might have felt I could call you Edgar. This untoward familiarity would have been in the days of the Cornetto trilogy, which I have watched on screens large and small (apologies!) countless times since the opening of Shawn of the Dead. In fact there was such a time as I felt a certain kinship with a person who could craft so lovingly such films. Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were gifts to a viewer like myself who seeks out carefully crafted writing paired with the kind of balanced humor that frames the skillful delivery of said writing with what could only have been hours of dedicated thought in the editing room. These are formal considerations, however, and these two films are most beloved to me for the heart and bravery it takes to lend real craft to genre films consumed by a broad range of viewers. Movies about buddy cops and zombie epidemics were staples of the mid 90s, and they brought joy and excitement to the small town in which I was raised. These genres, which I did not see represented in the film classes I would later take in college, told stories that were loved by rural residents for whom geographic segregation and economic stagnation offered little in the way of entertainment and escape; film for us was very much a means of connecting and communicating with worlds more fantastic than our own. As a woman with no exposure to something as exotic as foreign films in my childhood, it was with great joy that I encountered Shawn of the Dead and found that as far away as England there were other people with an entrenched love of movies living in working class contexts who were sitting up late at night watching with bated breath as a clutch of unlikely heroes battle out a zombie apocalypse. Your films helped me to understand that some kinships, despite feeling deeply localized, can also be global.
It is with such deep investment in your work that I heard your preface to Baby Driver with some reservations in both heart and mind. True, I chose to see your film in the theater and not on my couch, but I admit some reservation in believing this elevates me over another viewer who sees it in another context. Couch viewing, if you’ll forgive me, is the viewing of my people. I believe they are (or were) your people too. Certainly you remember a time when a couch with good company was the highest form of Friday night. If this feels unfamiliar to you, I recommend a re-watch of Shawn if the Dead‘s final scene, or perhaps the long night of binge viewing Bad Boys that serves as such a touching turning point for the protagonists in Hot Fuzz. I believe if you consult your heart you might find that what is lost in scale can be regained in both affordability and a sense of community.
You, however, do not seem convinced that this could be true, so I would like to raise some sincere and respectful questions about this new film and whether it truly demands to be seen in a theatrical context, for which you so adamantly advocated and for which my date generously paid twenty dollars. Baby Driver opened with some promise: an excellent car chase to the tune do Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a musical choice for which I commended you and that left me with strains of that old feeling of kinship that brought me to the theater in the first place. By the close of the film I would come to question what measure I would have to take to reclaim the song as my own. The scene that followed the opening sequence prompted in my concerns despite its excellent sound editing. Baby’s effortless flight through the city was made right and awkward by the incompetent casting, and left me longing for the scenes clear antecedent: REMs music video for Überlin. What Aaron Johnson achieves in those scant four minutes your film failed to reach in two hours, though it went to painstaking lengths trying. At no point did I feel that baby–or indeed any character in your movie–exhibited even a moment of honest human experience, be it the exuberant movement through dynamic space that comes from pedestrian or vehicular travel or the unbounded capacity for love Johnson manages to communicate with barely another human in sight. Your characters, by contrast, find themselves tethered to stilted and flat declarations of love in much the same manner they find themselves tethered together by inexplicably roomy headphones, which is to say unbelievably and for no conceivable reason.
You seem to feel, dear writer and director, that love of heists and car chases are no longer enough for your viewers. You believe we demand something like depth and nuance. Perhaps you believe you have outgrown your interest in genre and have moved, along with your viewers, to a new place where we come together to examine the full spectrum of human experience. You would be wrong. We are the same viewers we have always been and we know empty words when we hear them. We are finding true love on our couches, where we exchange words that reflect lived realities while watching vehicles drive quickly and with urgency toward armored trucks that we know instinctively holds wealth to which we have rights if not access. We have no need for bland declarations of feeling that have no backing when a heist is at stake, nor do we need characters wishing luck to the police who protect the wealth to which we have no access. We came to root for criminals and you gave us babies with no perspective save a lack of capacity for love and a light-hearted approval of a ballooning prison system that thrives off unpaid labor.
You sensed this, I think, in the post production stage. You knew something was missing, that we would not buy what you were selling. Perhaps this is why you thanked us at the outset. Perhaps this is why you felt the need to set aside love scenes in washed out black and white. Perhaps. I can think of no other explanation for such a hackneyed and distressing directorial decision. Certainly you have exhibited better taste in the past.
I commend you for your casting of adults. Kevin spacey is a win, for sure, as are Jamie Fox, John Hamm, and Flea. An even greater victory might be that you managed to capture footage of individuals who have demonstrated capacity for good work reading the dialogue you’ve written with neither laughter nor tears. This must have taken time and is consistent with the lack of emotive force of the film as a whole. I also commend you on a particular sweater worn by Mr. Fox in his first appearance on screen, which is manages to confound both character development and textile construction in one blow. I question your use of Eliza Gonzales, who seems lovely and yet found no dignity in your film either in writing or in costume. It is suggested once that her character was formerly employed as a sex worker, but her character development showed none of the fashion sense, economic prowess, or understanding of human behavior that enables individuals to successfully navigate sex work or any other unjustly criminalized economy. I have nothing to say on Lily James’s character as she had nothing of substance to say herself, even in passing. I would accuse your film of unabashed sexism if I could muster the recognition that it contained a female character to treat with misogyny. Rather, your seemed to focus on incomprehensible male characters who stumble occasionally across human women employed as mannequins with limited capacity for movement.
I hope you won’t take offense to this feedback. It’s given in the same spirit of conversational sharing with which you launched this movie into the world. In fact it is my hope that, just as your words brought this film into my life, this letter might ferry it out of my sight and of my mind, where it currently sits with the same kind of nagging maddening persistence as baby’s tinnitus. This letter is, for me, the merciful gun shots that might quiet my brain, weighted as it is by old love I soured by new disappointments. I wish you well Edgar, and I look forward to watching your next film from my couch when it is the only palatable thing left streaming for free on Netflix.