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Photo: ‘Last Night in Soho’
London can be a lot. This refrain echoes across the entirety of the sprawling psychological thriller ‘Last Night in Soho’ (2021). It serves as an all-encompassing epitaph capable to sum up the conflicting emotions of city-living, the harsh transition between adolescence and adulthood, and a demonic presence reaching through spacetime to solve a murder that took place 60 years prior. Indeed, London can be a lot, and so can maverick filmmaker Edgar Wright’s latest directorial effort.
The acclaimed visionary behind the beloved “Cornetto Trilogy” and cult favorites like ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ (2010) and ‘Baby Driver’ (2017), Wright has made a name for himself for his distinct brand of witty referentialism and vivid stylistic sensibilities. While both skills take on a far different form in ‘Last Night in Soho’ than any of his previous outings, sidelining the comedy and limiting the pop-cultural allusions, they both manifest themselves in intriguingly unique ways. The plot and the characters that populate it are placed front and center here, allowing for a more raw and emotionally gripping experience than any of Wright’s previous filmography. Whereas ‘Baby Driver’ was a non-stop race to the finish line chock-full of enough adrenaline to burst a blood vessel, ‘Last Night in Soho’ takes its sweet time in weaving its cross-generational mystery, and thoroughly exploring the ways in which a location’s past directly affect its present.
About Last Night…in Soho
‘Last Night in Soho’ certainly packs quite a lot into its two-hour runtime, navigating concurrent storylines in the past and present Soho neighborhood before eventually letting them spectacularly collapse in on each other. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ (2019) breakout Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise Turner, a naive young student who dreams about becoming a fashion designer and harbors a passion for the music, movies, and memoria of the Swinging Sixties. After getting accepted to the London College of Fashion, she moves to the big city and quickly realizes that everything is not as she imagined it, moving out of her dorm and renting a tucked away attic apartment from a detached elderly landlady portrayed by the late great ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-2012) actress Diana Rigg.
Things take a turn for the supernatural when Eloise discovers that every night when she dreams she is transported back in time to London during the 1960s, inhabiting the form of an ethereal aspiring club singer named Sandie played by ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ (2020) star Anya Taylor-Joy. She begins to be drawn farther and farther into the world the more time she spends there until she begins to suspect that Sandie had been brutally murdered by her on-again-off-again partner and abusive manager Jack played ominously by ‘Doctor Who’ (1963-) actor Matt Smith. Both realities begin to collide as ghostly apparitions from her dreams begin popping up when Eloise is awake. Along with the help of a caring fellow student John played by Michael Ajao, Ellie attempts to unravel the mystery piece by piece as time starts to run out, leading to an unexpected, if not a bit overly contrived, conclusion that makes sure no strings are left untied.
Taylor-Joy and McKenzie Serve as Two Voices Echoing Across Time
There is no question that what truly saves ‘Last Night in Soho’ from succumbing to the absurdity of its lofty premise and the derivative nature of other directorial nostalgia projects are the exceptional performances delivered by both Taylor-Joy and McKenzie throughout the film. While many have criticized the film for the lack of attention paid to the former relative to the way the marketing had positioned her in relation to the plot, the actress more than excels in every second she is on screen. Taylor-Joy begins the film as an almost otherworldly antithesis to the Eloise character, confident and unphased where the other is shy and trepidatious. It’s true that there is very little given to her in the way of character during this segment as she is more of an ideal than a flesh and blood person.
Once the dream descends into a nightmare, however, Taylor-Joy is able to demonstrate her acting chops, whirling through a range of differing emotions and ultimately challenging Eloise’s perception of herself as a romanticized avatar. There is a permeating sense of unknowability in every move she makes or phrases she lets slip, something that makes her eventual fate all the more impactful once the curtains are drawn and the truth is revealed.
As for McKenzie, she continues to prove herself as one of the most dynamic young actors working today, taking on yet another challenging character and injecting her with a distinct familiarity and relatability she may otherwise have gone without. Long segments of the film are devoted solely to her facial expressions and increasingly frenzied paranoia, and McKenzie never misses a beat nor drops a moment of tension, proving herself a capable leading presence no matter how outlandish the material she is working with. The rest of the cast serves their purpose, but the only true standout beyond the aforementioned duo is Rigg, delivering what may be the most complex performance of her entire career in what would turn out to be her last role.
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‘Last Night in Soho’ – A Lasting Reminder to Live Each Moment in the Present
No matter how removed the film feels from the rest of Edgar Wright’s work, audiences can still feel his fingerprints across every frame of ‘Last Night in Soho’. It is clear that an exorbitant amount of care went into crafting the look and feel of the film, and there is a clear sense that every locale or story beat was ripped directly from Wright’s imagination and thrown on screen. While some moviegoers may inevitably be turned off by some of the admittedly madcap decisions made by the characters and the creative team come the third-act finale, there’s no denying the fact that the willingness to risk making said decisions in the first place. ‘Last Night in Soho’ is one of the most audacious films of the year and winds up being a firm declaration that Wright is as good a dramatic director as he is a comedic one.
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Rita Tushingham, Jessie Mei Li, Synnøve Karlsen, Margaret Nolan, Michael Jibson, Lisa McGrillis James, Oliver Phelps, Sam Claflin
Director: Edgar Wright | Writer: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns | Producers: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Edgar Wright
Cinematographer: Chung-hoon Chung | Editor: Paul Machliss | Score: Steven Price
By Andrew Valianti
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Andrew Valianti is a writer and an aspiring producer-director, and all-around film lover. While writing both features and reviews for the Hollywood Insider, Andrew has focused on the intersection of cinema and politics as they relate to empowering diverse stories and viewpoints. Through both study and practice, Andrew has seen first hand the many ways in which film and media can have a positive and meaningful impact on everyday lives. His personal views align with the Hollywood Insider, as he views journalism as a means to empower and mobilize positive change rather than spread gossip or negativity. He believes that art ignites action and has sought to pursue stories that further this goal.