Best of 2017: “Baby Driver” & “Lady Bird” Offer a Fresh Take on Old Tropes

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Film Review: “Baby Driver,” directed by Edgar Wright, 2017; “Lady Bird,” directed by Greta Gerwig, 2017

In 2017, two films featuring young protagonists broke the mold to give same old same old tropes a fresh take. In “Baby Driver,” the creative use of music made it an extraordinary heist film, while the unlikely focus of “Lady Bird” on mother-daughter relationship set it apart from other coming-of-age movies. The two films are among the best and most original of last year’s crop of films.

For most moviegoers, “Ocean’s Eleven” is the quintessential Hollywood heist flick. It’s no wonder the 1960 film, starring Frank Sinatra as Danny Ocean, was remade in 2001, featuring   George Clooney in the lead role. Last year, “Baby Driver” literally changed the tune for heist films.

When it comes to coming-of-age movies, the name John Hughes is synonymous with the trope. He directed “Sixteen Candles” (1984) and “The Breakfast Club” (1985). Last year, “Lady Bird” raised the bar for the film genre.

“Baby Driver” Rules the Road

A young getaway driver known as Baby (Ansel Ergort) is in the final stage of paying his debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey), the clever and merciless mastermind of a series of bank robberies. Baby is not your typical criminal. For a start, he suffers from tinnitus, which compels him to wear his ear buds almost all the time. He listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears. He also loves to record people’s conversations and mixes them with music. This trait is a great way for Edgar Wright, who wrote and directed the film, to incorporate music in a genre known primarily for car chases.

Mind you, this film has plenty of adrenaline-pumping car chases, and then some. In Wright’s capable hands, we witness the heists through Baby’s eyes, against the background of his fantastic play lists.

It was a treat to discover such songs as “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (in the breathtaking opening scene), “Brighton Rock” by the Queen, “Tequila” by Button Down Brass, and “Easy” by the Commodores. My only beef with Wright is this: Why does a character as young as Baby listen to old songs all the time? Baby’s play lists sorely lacked contemporary songs.

Ergot plays Baby with innocence and verve. He and Lily James (Deborah), as the ill-fated young lovers, are bona fide stars. They both personify old Hollywood glamour despite their unglamorous roles, thanks to Wright’s superb direction.

Wright is known for his collaboration with Simon Pegg in films such as “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and “Hot Fuzz” (2007). What a pleasant surprise to see him get out of his comfort zone in this highly creative and entertaining film.

The movie features a strong supporting cast: Jamie Foxx (Bats), John Hamm (Buddy), and Spacey, before the sexual-assault scandal that cost him his career.

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“Lady Bird” Has Makings of a Classic

When a Catholic high school student (Saoirse Ronan) insists that her “given name” is Lady Bird because “it’s given to me by me,” we know right away what a strong-willed character she is. Also, she has bottle-red hair that screams for attention.

In fact her real name is Christine McPherson, and she can’t wait to go to college, preferably the East Coast. She desperately wants to escape her hometown, Sacramento, which she describes as “the Midwest of California.”

Like a conventional coming-of-age movie, “Lady Bird” shows the heroine fall in love and try hard to please the cool kids, which results in a falling out with her best friend. Greta Gerwig’s film pays close attention to Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), an overworked nurse. Theirs is a loving relationship with a funny side (especially when they are clothes shopping) and a thorny side. Their fight over Lady Bird’s desire to attend a university in New York, which costs a lot more than a nearby school, will resonate with parents who have college-bound kids.

Ronan is perfect in her portrayal of the stubbornly flawed Lady Bird. You’ll never suspect she grew up in Ireland and has never attended a prom. She certainly deserves the 2018 Golden Globes Best Actress award (in a musical or comedy motion picture).

Gerwig, a Sacramento native and a product of Catholic schools, shares a lot in common with her film’s heroine. She wrote and directed the movie and won the 2018 Golden Globes Best Screenplay award for motion picture.

As an actress, Gerwig is charming, funny, and witty in films such as “Frances Ha” (2012) and “Mistress America” (2015). As a filmmaker, she’s twice as effective. Her depiction of the bitter-sweet process of growing up is bound to become a classic.

Read other film reviews:

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone’s “La La Land”: Perfect Antidote to Gloom of 2016

Natalie Portman’s Feminist Western Deserves More Attention

Brie Larson’s “Room” Captures the Novel’s Extraordinary Voice

“In a World…” is an Exuberant Exposé of the Cutthroat Voice-Over Industry


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