Thursday, 27 July 2017

IN THEATRES: Girls Trip & Baby Driver

The Midnight Ramble returns with another double bill review. And spoilers, these movies are both great.

Girls Trip
This is the best studio comedy of the year.  

When Ryan (Regina Hall) gets invited to be a keynote speaker at the annual Essence Festival taking place in New Orleans, she wrangles her old friends Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (jada Pinkett-Smith) and wildcard Dina (Tiffany Haddish) to join her for an overdue reunion. As the trip gets underway, the four friends run into complications which test their shared bond...
This is one of the rare movies where everything feels on-point: the cast are all great, the script (co-written by the creator of Blackish, Kenya Barris) and the direction (by Malcolm D. Lee) are all operating like a well-oiled machine.
I'm going to echo a lot of people but Tiffany Haddish owns this movie. To say she steals it would imply that someone else owned it, but from her first moment onscreen, she just fills out the screen. And kudos to the editor for picking all of her best ad libs. Improv can often feel listless and kill the pace, but every piece of Haddish-flavoured nonsense is pure gold.

While Haddish is the standout, no one is short-changed. This is one of those rare  ensemble comedies where all the characters have their own stories.
Jada Pinkett-Smith is great as the square mom rediscovering her inner freak, while Queen Latifah gets a great set piece in which she hallucinates a Latin lover during a bad trip. She also gets a sweet character beat in the third act where she reveals her true worth.
And finally, Regina Hall.
I already went insane praising the lady's chops in previous reviews, but this movie just highlights how versatile she really is. Playing an Oprah-like guru, she has the central character arc, and proves a fine straight man to all the other characters' madness. And thankfully, once the substances start flowing, we get to see some vintage Regina Hall crazy.
Everything in this movie works. One of the signs of how great it is is the pacing. This movie is over two hours long (the touch of death for a comedy), and yet it flies by. And the movie is about something (female self-worth and friendship) without feeling didactic or wedged in (think of any recent comedy which tries to hit you over the head with a closing message). It all flows seamlessly together as a whole.
If it isn't obvious, I loved this movie. It's great and I hope you all get to see it at some point (see below).
Hey New Zealand distributors, sort this out
Whenever it comes out down under, check it out.

Baby Driver
Marking a neat break from the superheroes, Edgar Wright returns with his own spin on the seventies car chase thriller.

Baby is the best getaway driver in the business. And he can't wait to get out of it so he can spend the rest of his life with his love, Debora (Lily James). But when his boss (Kevin Spacey) insists he keep working, Baby realises he will have to switch gears to avoid losing everything he has fought for.

Wright's love letter to the Western-style minimalism of Walter Hill (The Driver), Baby Driver is less visually hyperactive than his previous work. Aside from Martin Scorsese and Russ Meyer, no filmmaker can match Wright's talents for approximating the beat and rhythm of rock'n'roll cinematically. The action is well-choreographed, shot and edited. Most people will probably focus on the car chases, but the sequence that really impressed me was the foot chase in the third act. The soundtrack is terrific, and while the movie is almost wall-to-wall sound, it never gets tired.

The supporting players are all terrific. Spacey is not really operating outside his wheelhouse, but he's solid. The crims Baby works with are a collection of terrifying live wires: Jon Bernthal and (especially) Jamie Foxx. Even the seemingly normal Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) are bad news.

But while it has many good qualities, there is something holding me back from saying I loved Baby Driver. I enjoyed it, but I never felt entirely won over by it. While I enjoyed the style and the music, there were a few points where I felt outside, where Wright's choices worked against the movie.

My one issue derives from the protracted denouement, chronicling Baby's stay in jail while he waits to be reunited with Debora. Wright seems to be striving for a romanticism that the movie has not earned. Maybe it's just me, but I felt the love story worked as a component of the crime plot, but it never overshadowed it in the way Wright thinks it does. I never really felt the protagonists falling in love to the degree that would justify the extended coda.

It might also have to do with the fact that I felt the main players did not have the kind of dynamite chemistry to make me invest in their relationship. Lily James is very winsome as Debora, but there is something that does not click about her co-star. Ansel Elgort is good in the lead role, but he does not have the kind of presence or charisma to make the character's silence read.

My issues aside, Baby Driver is a good time at the movies. It's a thrill ride in the old school sense of the term, and is a good option if you are (like everybody) a little tired of the same CG-style blockbusters which occupy the mid-year. 

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