'Last Night in Soho': Edgar Wright's Latest is an Intoxicating, Yet Flawed Trip Back in Time
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
From the very first scene of Last Night in Soho, we know that our protagonist, Eloise (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is in love with the 60s. She loves the music, the style, the fashion, everything from this particular time and place. So when she starts experiencing visions from 1960s London, she is initially thrilled, as it gives her the chance to experience an era that she has romanticized for some time now. However, she soon discovers that the past isn't as great as she thought it would be, and the glamorous facade she has built in her head begins to crack. This is one of the many ideas that Edgar Wright explores in his latest film. There is quite a bit that he is trying to say with this film, and while some of it gets a little lost under the spectacle and its complicated third act, this still ends up being a fascinating and electrifying experience.
Edgar Wright is well known for his signature style. From the way his films are edited, to the way he uses color, light, sound, and music, to the small, yet significant details that you may not catch until your second or third viewing of any of his work, Wright has made a name for himself by making movies in his own distinct way. This film is no different, as we see Wright take his trademarks, and blend them with elements of giallo and horror. It's no secret that he was greatly influenced by the work of legendary directors such as Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, other nods to various films from the 60s. This definitely feels like an interesting step forward for Wright from a pure filmmaking standard, as it allows him to do his thing while also stretching in different directions. It's a more serious affair for him, but we still get little glimmers of his specific brand of humor. Either way, you can still feel the passion that he brings to the table here, and it yields some of his most interesting directorial work to date.
Sadly, the same can't exactly be said for the writing. It's not that the script is bad, per se, but there are some issues I have with it that left me wondering why specific choices were made. The first two acts are quite good, and reeled me in further and further, but there are a couple of moments in the third act that feel so contradictory to what the film has been saying up to that point, and it ends up muddling some of the statements the film is trying to make. It's hard to talk about these without spoiling them, but considering that they factor largely into the film's climax, it's hard to ignore them. The script was written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who also co-wrote 1917) and I would be curious to see who contributed what to it, or if it was a pure collaborative effort. Either way, I can't help but be a little disappointing that this film doesn't quite stick the landing, especially since it comes so close.
In regards to the technical side of things, however, I was highly impressed. Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography is breathtaking, and I love how he shoots the film in a way that feels akin to Wright's other work, while also feeling like the work of a true original. The use of color is fantastic, especially use of reds and blues, and the recurring motif of the neon sign outside of Eloise's apartment is a nice touch. I also felt that the costume design for this film was great, which is much needed given that this film is partially a period piece, and because our main character is in fashion school. The pink dress that Anya Taylor-Joy's character wears when we are first introduced to her is especially striking, and some of the outfits we see in the present day scenes are quite good as well.
With this being an Edgar Wright film, it's no surprise that it has a fantastic soundtrack to go along with it. It is full of classic songs of the 60s, which are perfectly used throughout the film. There is also a standout moment where Anya Taylor-Joy sings a rendition of the song Downtown by Petula Clark, and is beautiful, yet foreboding in the context of the film. The film also has a nice score from longtime Wright collaborator Steven Price, that isn't too showy, but serves the film quite well.
While the technical aspects are arguably the best thing about the film, I was also quite taken by some of the performances that we get here. Thomasin McKenzie continues to prove herself as one of our most talented up and coming actors, and this might be my favorite role she's played. She plays both the wide-eyed ingenue and a person losing their grip on reality so well, and gives quite a bit of depth to the role. I am so glad that her career seems to be taking off, as she is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors currently working today. Anya Taylor-Joy is also quite good, and she handles the mysterious nature of her character nicely. She has such a presence with this role that I haven't quite seen from her before, and it truly adds to the film. I also loved Diana Rigg's work here, as she gets some good moments of humor and nails every scene she's in. The role shows her range so well, and it makes for a great swan song of a performance given that this was her last film before she passed away. We also get good performances from Michael Ajao, Matt Smith, and Terence Stamp, who all make the most of their time on screen.
I feel like this is one of those films that I will need to sit with for a while to get a full opinion on. I do like how it explores the idea of nostalgia, and how it can be dangerous in certain ways. I can see where Wright and Cairns want to explore concepts of power, predation, and trauma, but they don't come across as strong as they could have. I think that a lot of my issues come down to the questionable choices made in the third act. Despite this, I still liked the film for the most part. The more I think on it, I can appreciate the bulk of it, but I also recognize that this is a flawed film. The style greatly outweighs the substance, which is rough considering that there's a lot of potential in some of the themes that Wright is grappling with.
I definitely feel like I need to give this another watch in the future, as I feel there may be more to unlock under the surface. I feel like my feelings on the film as a whole may change over time, for better or for worse, but for now, I can say that I liked it quite a bit, despite its flaws. I can see why this has received such a divisive reception, but I definitely skew more positive on it. If nothing else, it's an interesting and original film, and is almost dizzying in its execution in the best possible way.