Last Night in Soho
Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Story by Edgar Wright
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Margaret Nolan, Diana Rigg
In the fast-paced world of today, we’re all competing for attention in some form. For Eloise “Ellie” Turner, it is a desire to be a fashion designer. Director Edgar Wright has his hands on the pulse of the modern upper teen in his latest film, “Last Night in Soho.”
Tomasin McKenzie plays Ellie, a closed-in individual who wants more out of her life than to live on an isolated English farm. McKenzie takes the beatings that come from unfamiliar situations and peers, who think they’re better than others. In fact, Ellie takes it in stride, and McKenzie shines.
It isn’t until she’s had enough of the mental beatings that she decides to rent a place of her own in London’s Soho district. Today, Soho is trendy and fashionable but is also run down, a product of its past, which Ellie gets to ‘experience’ in an out-of-body type role when she is mysteriously transported into 1966 Soho and the life of Sandie, devilishly and confidently played by Anya Taylor-Joy.
Wright, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, and production designer, Marcus Rowland magically transport Ellie and us back to swinging 1966 London, where a marquee features the James Bond epic, “Thunderball,” along with neon-soaked streets, debauchery, drama, and drinking. Sandie wants to be a performer, specifically a singer when she finally meets Jack, played by Matt Smith. Jack is not all he seems, and Smith’s edgy looks convey the nefariousness of the character as Sandie descends into a pit of hell. The constant flipping and flapping between the present and 1966 represent the emotional distress of Ellie and Sandie as Ellie lives Sandie’s life and has to not let those memories drive her own life.
In a moment of turnabout, Wright reminds us that “what was once old is made new again;” as Ellie lives as Sandie, in memories and the places, the smells, they drive Ellie’s design work, to the astonishment of her classmates and her professors. There is brilliance in Wright’s tight direction and the visuals, and if the film stopped at that point in the characters’ lives, the movie would have been short but much more fun.
Wright instead goes down a rabbit hole of hell and distention as the neon-soaked noir turns to horror, driving Ellie madder and madder as Sandie becomes more and more threatened. Wright does juxtapose elements of Sandie’s life on Ellie’s own life in modern times. A centrifuge of sorts for this time-swapping adventure sits in an old bar, with a brilliantly concocted Terence Stamp as The Silver Haired Gentleman, a drunkard with interest in Ellie. Wright attempts to use Stamp’s character as a string between the two worlds, but it comes off as less dramatic as it was intended.
On the flip side of the craziness that is “Last Night in Soho,” is Dame Diana Rigg’s swan song as Ms. Collins, Ellie’s landlady in modern London. Rigg plays the unassuming Ms. Collins with the fabulous gusto the actress is known for, and in a shifting paradox, Ms. Collins takes on the threatening persona of someone who is stuck in the past. It’s brilliant acting in an otherwise unsatisfying third act.
“Last Night in Soho” will appeal to Wright fans, and to be honest, I’m stuck in the middle of this paradoxical madhouse. I see where Wright was going, even with the cringe-worthy ideals of the ’60s affecting our two main protagonists. The music-driven soundtrack, the same as Wright infused into “Baby Driver,” drives the story’s themes and, thematically, it works; the film is so frenetic, it might be enjoyable. However, the paradoxes keep the entire three-act arc from completely working.
With a strong cast and performances, along with intricately detailed set design and elements, “Last Night in Soho” is destined to divide or has already divided, depending on which modern paradox you live in, critics and fans.
116 minutes, R, Focus Features