Let’s face it–we live in a world where the term “summer blockbuster” is equated to the cultish and complex worlds of Marvel and DC Comics and little else. The option to see a massively budgeted installment of a franchise during any given trip to the movies is pretty much guaranteed. But this just means that the films that don’t fall into these categories are held to an even higher standard.
Fortunately enough, there were three summer standouts that did not disappoint: box office dark horses and critic favorites “Baby Driver,” “The Big Sick,” and “Dunkirk.” So here’s what you might’ve missed this summer. and what you should double back and see.
Written and directed by Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, and Kevin Spacey, “Baby Driver” is a shining example of the new musical. Arguably marketed as your run-of-the-mill heist narrative, “Baby Driver” took the getaway-driver character trope to a completely different realm. Baby (Elgort) is a nearly mute, absurdly talented motorist with a tragic backstory that rivals his superhero, box office counterparts. Baby’s obsession with music is evident as the viewer rarely sees him without headphones in and his own carefully crafted playlists become the soundtrack of the film.
This is where the phrase “new musical” comes into play. The narrative of “Baby Driver” is woven through music, but not in the traditional sense that one might expect. The result is a thoroughly dynamic and enticing blend of soundtrack and visual cues. On top of the remarkable use of music, “Baby Driver” is incredibly well-acted and emotionally astute, creating an all-around phenomenal summer hit.
Sketch comedians making the jump from the small to the silver screen is a notoriously hit-or-miss move, but “Portlandia” and “Silicon Valley” actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani seems to have mastered it. Written by Nanjiani and his wife, and based on their own love story, “The Big Sick” offers the perfect blend of dry humor, emotional vulnerability and personal touch.
Nanjiani’s fictionalized version of himself faces a sudden dilemma when his recent ex-girlfriend falls into a coma after they break up over cultural differences. He feels the obligation to wait at her bedside and comfort her parents, creating the delightfully awkward series of interactions that make up the film. On some levels, it’s the romantic comedy we’ve all seen (and loved, in all honesty) before. “The Big Sick” is, in some ways, predictable and comfortable. However, this film shouldn’t be overlooked, as it also addresses the uncomfortable too: racial and cultural differences, the fragility of health, and relationships in the modern age. “The Big Sick” is a refreshing take on just about every trope you’ve grown used to.
Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited Dunkirk rounds out the three “can’t miss” films of the summer season. Nolan takes a stab at the historical drama, offering his interpretation of the ultimately successful evacuation of British troops out of Dunkirk, France in the thick of World War II. Clocking in at a brisk 90 minutes, Nolan packs an incredible amount of power and emotion into a much shorter run time than he’s known for.
Like “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk” articulates the emotion, and in this case crippling anxiety and fear, through the soundtrack. Nolan’s go-to musical genius, Hans Zimmer, returns to the world’s delight, to create a goose-bump inducing score that’s ruled by the soft ticking of a pocket watch.
Time is one of the film’s many overarching themes, all of which are conveyed with little dialogue and even less gore, despite being a war epic. The unquestionable effect that the lack of carnage has leads the viewer to wonder why we ever put so much faith in Quentin Tarantino to tell violent tales. If it sounds like I’m an avid Chris Nolan fan, it’s because I am, and “Dunkirk” is likely his best effort yet.
Skip it: “The Glass Castle” is a noble effort and does a good enough job making a movie out of a book that really should not allow it, but you still leave the theater feeling like you wasted your time. If Woody Harrelson can’t save something, it can’t be saved. Stick with the book and you will feel way more emotionally enlightened.