“Last Night in Soho” centers around a fashion design student named Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) who becomes obsessed with the wild lives of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Frank (Matt Smith), despite their existence taking place in a different decade from Eloise.
While Eloise exists in the present and takes classes by day, at night she dreams of the 1960s, where she is able to shadow Sandie’s exotic world. While Sandie immerses herself in the social scene of London’s West End, Eloise, like Alice through the Looking Glass, is able to witness Sandie’s nightly adventures, but only on the other side of mirrors or through reflective surfaces.
When Sandie’s mod existence takes a tragic turn, Eloise struggles to keep the real world and her dream state separate.
Director Edgar Wright’s latest film, his best so far, is loaded with some of the year’s most exhilarating cinematic passages. At times, this mirrors (pun intended) the obsession to detail and passion for its era found in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”
Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” (2005) and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” (2010) will remain his cinematic calling cards, but this is a next-level achievement.
Wright’s love for cinema is all over this, with visuals and ideas reminding me of Dario Argento (rich colors in the “Suspires” vein), Brian De Palma (his “Sisters” and “Femme Fatale” in particular), David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” (with its twinning imagery) and the set-up of Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant.”
The premise even has a connection to Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” with its casual, nocturnal time travel (who needs a DeLorean when you can just go to sleep?).
I just gave a list of works that reminded me of this one, but Wright’s film doesn’t come across like a Franken-movie made up of spare parts. By the contrary, it blends elements of different narratives but, scene-to-scene, feels less like a self-conscious pastiche and more a passionate, deeply personal work.
The establishing scenes, like a wondrous opening (the best in-bedroom dance number since Elisabeth Shue rocked the start of “Adventures in Babysitting”) and Eloise’s unfortunate pairing with a monster of a roommate (played by Synnove Karlsen, perfect at playing a loathsome socialite) connect, because we’re emotionally engaged.
McKenzie, who initially seems cast due to her resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, is excellent, making her character vulnerable and endearing long before the story branches off in fantastical directions.
In addition to a wondrous soundtrack, immaculate production and costume design and a story that spins off in captivating directions, it also makes great use of Terrence Stamp and, in her final role, an excellent Diana Rigg.
Seeing Rigg’s name in the credits made me think she was on hand to do a cameo and remind viewers of her connection to “The Avengers” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but Wright has done much more – Rigg’s layered character turn is Oscar worthy.
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The moment where Eloise time travels for the first time and is met with a massive marquee for “Thunderball,” you sense immediately that Wright intends for this to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I suggest seeing this the way he intended, as the production design and filmmaking aim to transport us into this new world as forcefully as Eloise.
Ridley Scott’s recent “The Last Duel” tried and failed to add anything new to the conversation of how rape and misogyny persists in a male dominated society. Here, Wright creates an environment where women are exploited and abused in the background, while their talent and charm is siphoned off on the surface. Here is one of the rare films made in the #metoo world that makes a timely observation of how women are seduced and controlled by powerful men who promise a career in exchange for sexual favors.
Wright doesn’t overstep the subtext (whereas Scott’s film approached the topic with sledgehammer).
“Last Night in Soho’s” ending isn’t a cop-out or a mistake – in fact, its operatic and over the top, whereas anything less would have felt unearned. Yet, the third act is overwritten, with a final scene that feels suspiciously tacked on after a test audience needed more clarity (that’s not insider information, just a reflection of how the last scene comes across).
I preferred the horror being at the psychological level, rather than how literal things become in the third act. It’s a temptation to say the film peaks in the first hour, but multiple viewings, and a consideration of how this all fits together, may prove otherwise.
Wright has made a grown-up movie about young people, and it could take him in a new direction… or, if box office is any indication, it could make him creatively digress and go back to something with wider audience appeal. Let’s hope not. Instead of waiting for the inevitable cult following, see “Last Night in Soho” immediately. It’s a standout work and Wright’s most accomplished film yet.
Three and a Half Stars