Review: Last Night in Soho

Because Edgar Wright made his reputation poking fun at big budget genre movies, there’s always a feeling in whatever he does that he’s taking the piss, and from the first frame of his latest, in which it’s difficult to distinguish the modern-day setting from the barrage of references to England’s Swinging Sixties, there’s an overriding sense of cross-purpose at play. As it turns out, these competing temporal modes are what the movie is all about, and not just in the way they’re incorporated into the story, but in the way they are drilled into the viewer’s consciousness. Our protagonist, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), is a budding fashion designer whose obsession with the 60s is all-encompassing, from her 45s collection to her fondness for vintage fabrics. The thing is, Wright doesn’t stop there. He has to cast Rita Tushingham, an actress whose identity is completely tied into the British youth films of the 60s (A Taste of Honey, The Knack), as Eloise’s grandmother, and whenever Eloise asks her what it was like in those days you can just hear Wright giggling in the background.

That he uses this dynamic in the service of a fantasy horror movie only shows how beholden Wright is to the same kind of high concept that guided his parodies, but the results are less satisfying since he doesn’t have as tight a grip as he needs to have on either the 60s milieu or the scary stuff. Eloise, a suburban girl, moves to London to attend a prestigious fashion school and immediately her throwback style prerogatives run up against the post-millennial sensibilities of her fellow classmates, who ridicule her “granny shit.” Feeling ostracized and threatened, she moves out of the dorm and into a private flat under the care of elderly Ms. Collins, played in her last role by Diana Rigg, who, as Mrs. Emma Peel in The Avengers, was even more identified with the 60s than Tushingham was. Though the old-fashioned decor and atmosphere of her new abode initially makes Eloise feel more at home, her nights quickly fill with visions of another young woman trying to make her name in London—but during the height of the 60s themselves. Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an aspiring singer who is trying to get noticed by the shady management of the legendary Cafe de Paris. 

The pastiche comes fast and furious from then on, but the comical payoff one usually expects from Wright never comes. In fact, his determination to make this a real creepfest seems disingenuous in contrast, and the various subplots involving a fellow fashion student (Michael Ajao) with a crush on Eloise and a mysterious old guy (Terence Stamp—the original “angry young man”!) who may or may not be involved in a murder that Eloise sees during her dreamtime as Sandie, only confound the general mood. Even as Eloise turns detective to find out who Sandie really is (and whether she really existed) and what powers are sending her back in time to relive the singer’s tragic, exploited existence, the movie never properly follows a path that makes sense as either a thriller or a farce (or, for that matter, as a comment on the kind of sexism that has survived into the 2020s). Most of the effort goes into recreating the Swinging Sixties without making it at all believable, which is OK since it’s being reimagined through the mind of a girl born after 2000, but it still feels half-assed. 

Opens Dec. 10 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Shibuya Parco White Cine Quinto (03-6712-7225), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Last Night in Soho home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Focus Features LLC

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