Not since Les Miz–era Anne Hathaway has there been a celebrity who stoked the fires of public hatred quite like Ansel Elgort. “I’m super easy to hate,” he acknowledged in a recent interview, and he’s not wrong. A turtleneck-sporting model-actor-DJ with famous parents and seemingly boundless self-confidence, Ansel seems to dig himself into a deeper hole every time he opens his mouth. He exists in that rare sweet spot where frat-bro-douche and art-bro-douche collide; once asked what he looks for in a woman, Ansel responded: “If you can find a girl who you can go to an EDM concert with, have a conversation with, who will sit on the couch and watch you play GTA for three hours — and then you go to bed and have amazing sex, that should be your girlfriend.” He is, as the Telegraph recently put it, a “Venn diagram of Things Currently Disliked in Culture.”
And yet: I was pretty sure I hated Ansel Elgort, and then I watched Edgar Wright’s action movie-slash-full-length-music-video Baby Driver, and now I feel like maybe I actually love Ansel Elgort and want nothing more than for him to hold me in his spindly arms while whispering EDM lyrics into my ear. That’s how good this movie is.
In Baby Driver, Ansel plays a driver named Baby, or as Ansel describes him: “a soft-spoken badass,” which is something Baby would never say. Baby is a sweet, innocent kid who listens to music at all times, because he has tinnitus from a childhood accident. He enjoys jacking cars, making mixtapes, and dancing, which is the first of many hot-man skills he possesses. He also happens to be really, really good at driving (hot-man skill number two). And we’re not talking about parallel parking in a tight spot: Baby is like Batman in a stolen Subaru, whose natural abilities on the road get him suckered into being a getaway driver for a gang of criminals, led by Kevin Spacey, even though all he wants is to live a peaceful life with the charming waitress he is falling in love with (Lily James). Throughout its two-hour run time, the songs playing in Baby’s ears serve as the film’s soundtrack, with Baby as its frenetic, toe-tapping centerpiece — Maddy Ziegler with a driver’s license and a bad case of road rage.
When he’s not driving, dancing, or doing parkour around the streets of Atlanta (who knew parkour could be a hot-man skill!?), Baby is mostly silent and expressionless, hiding behind a pair of sunglasses. A lot of credit has go to director Edgar Wright for giving Ansel such an unimpeachable cool-guy role, which is a gift he has bestowed on many uncool actors of yore. (In the past, Wright has made convincing badasses out of Michael Cera and Simon Pegg; he could cast Jesse Eisenberg as the next Bond and we’d hail him as the greatest thing since Roger Moore.) But the genius of Baby Driver is not just that it gets Ansel to shut up; it’s that it takes everything that is usually so grating about his persona — his DJing, his dance moves, his face — and transforms them into the essence of his (and the film’s) charm.
Above all, Ansel gives the movie confidence. Baby Driver is a bold, energetic movie that goes fast — inspiring critics to use phrase like “giddy, adrenaline-filled joyride” and “a jaw-shattering spectacle of sight and sound” — and Ansel is the fuel that keeps the whole thing moving. The egotism and natural self-assuredness that allow him to say things like “I’m the most threatening guy ever” with a straight face are also what allow him to embody Baby’s innate, unspoken badassery so convincingly, to throw himself so wholeheartedly into the role. Seeing Elgort’s bone-deep confidence used in service of coolness, instead of douchiness, is powerful enough to make one reevaluate his previous canon in a whole new light. (An experiment: Watch the video for Ansel’s Patrick Bateman–inspired music video Thief — which features him sensually putting on a turtleneck and flexing shirtless in the mirror — and imagine that instead of watching the creative outpourings of Ansel Elgort, you’re watching Baby lip-syncing to Ansel Elgort. I guarantee you’ll appreciate it way more.)
Unlike Ryan Gosling in La La Land and every other male music nerd in the history of the planet, Baby does not feel the need to mansplain what he’s listening to (unless asked, in which case he will politely provide helpful biographical context). In fact, Baby hardly speaks at all, which turns out to be a great look for Elgort. If you’re an actor with an offscreen habit of saying things that piss people off, taking a role that combines extreme physical competence with limited verbosity is generally a good way to make them forget they don’t like you (see: Tom Cruise’s whole career, Anne Hathaway in Interstellar). When he does occasionally talk, it’s to compliment Lily James (he’s a gentleman!) or to accurately recite heist instructions back to his criminal gang (he has a good memory!). Ultimately, Baby Driver’s greatest feat is letting Ansel be good at all the things he is good at — athletics, being hot, bopping to sick beats — without ever feeling the need to tell us how good he is at them.
For instance, this is Ansel talking about the movie:
“On an empty road, I’ll do some of the tricks that I learned. I’m pretty good at the tricks. I can do a J-turn. I can do a 180-degree turn, I can do the 90 power-out. That is the cool one.”
And these are all the words that Baby says in the first ten minutes of the film:
Turns out, that’s all we needed to hear.