Let’s be honest here: Sometimes critics, as a group, lose their damn minds and rally around a work of art that isn’t really that good. When Oasis’s Be Here Now came out, music critics were positively orgasmic in their reactions. Twenty years later, of course, the album is viewed as a bombastic overreach, the musical equivalent of cocaine.
Well film critics can do the same thing sometimes. Maybe a movie is Speaking To The Moment. Maybe it Highlights An Important Issue. Or maybe, there haven’t been that many great films for a while, so the tendency is to overrate anything mildly not bad that gets distributed.
This is the first in a series of essays that will highlight 2017 releases that received critical plaudits, but I’m convinced will not stand the test of time. Okay, look: I’m not here to spoil anybody’s fun. If you like one or more of the films I’m going to talk about, well, I’m not narcissistic enough to think that I’m going to change your mind. But 2017 was unique for having a very high number of films that received acclaim, but simply didn’t work for me. So I’m interested in exploring exactly why they didn’t. Not too deeply though—I sure don’t want to have to see any of these movies more than once!
It’s difficult not to view Baby Driver as the dumb Hollywood remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s superior Drive. They both feature a taciturn lead character who drives for a living, and makes extra money during his off hours by driving very recklessly for shady underground types. Drive featured pregnant silences and tantalising ellipses punctuated by stunning acts of violence—all the more powerful given how rarely they emerged. Baby Driver ‘corrects’ these arthouse trappings with constant noise and activity, cannily designed to lure in an ADD-afflicted audience troubled by a moment’s quiet reflection.
Ultimately, Baby Driver just tries too hard, and the strain shows. The saddest attempt to AMP UP THE ENERGY is a sequence in which Wright matches the sound of diegetic gunfire to the pulsing musical score on the soundtrack. This marriage of sound effects to non-diegetic music was an awful idea when Joe Wright tried it in Atonement, and it fares no better here. Maybe save that shit for musicals. It pulled me out of the action and highlighted the sheer artificiality of the film’s setting and characters—which, again, are so close to Drive I can’t believe there wasn’t a lawsuit.
Look, I’ve responded favourably to previous Edgar Wright films, so I’m willing to believe that Baby Driver was just a miscalculation, a spectacularly ill-judged misfire from an otherwise notable talent. And even though this might get me into trouble, I need to come clean: I hated Baby Driver so much that, about two-thirds of the way through, I’d just had enough. I walked out of the cinema. This might make me derelict in my critical duties, but the sense of freedom and relief I felt once I pushed past the WAY OUT sign was well worth it.
If I were to show you any particular scene from Andy Muschietti’s It, you’d probably think to yourself, ‘Oh, that looks like a quite good horror movie.’ And I wouldn’t blame you. Each scene is competently put together by a talented team with a clear idea of what they’re doing. The problem comes when you take each of these individual scenes and begin stringing them together into a movie. What quickly emerges is a niggling sense that, while Muschietti does a swell job crafting a scene, he has no vision for It as a whole.
Let me explain what I mean by considering the film’s scare scenes—that is, the scenes designed to give you goosebumps, to make you leap out of your seat. Each one is well-crafted, but has the exact structure of every other one. The score swells with discordant music. The camera tilts, providing a Dutch angle of a character—who we surmise will soon become a victim. Slowly, the soundtrack goes silent. Muschietti holds this silence for a few seconds and then… AHHHH! A LOUD NOISE FOLLOWED BY LOUD DISCORDANT MUSIC AND A RAPIDLY EDITED VIEW OF SOMETHING SCARY!!
Muschietti knows exactly one trick and he performs it again and again. So after, I dunno, three or four examples of this exact same scare tactic, It becomes unscary, and eventually boring. When every shock is telegraphed the same way, it’s easy to become immune.
I have other issues with the film. None of the characters seem like people since they’re all given only one or two distinguishing characteristics, etc. But to be completely honest, the film lost me with the very first sequence. It involves a young boy chasing a paper boat down a curb in a rainstorm. The problem is, the boat doesn’t look real—it looks like it was folded together with newspapers from Toon Town. In 1993, Steven Spielberg used nascent CGI technology to convince me that dinosaurs could live and breathe. In 2017, Andy Muschietti can’t even convince me that a tiny, inanimate boat made of paper is real. That set a bad tone, and kinda destroyed any further suspension of disbelief.