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Last Night in Soho Movie Review

Last Night in Soho (2021) movie poster Last Night in Soho

Theatrical Release: October 29, 2021

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Cast: Thomasin Mckenzie (Eloise Turner), Anya Taylor-Joy (Sandie), Matt Smith (Jack), Michael Ajao (John), Diana Rigg (Ms. Collins), Aimee Cassettari (Eloise's Mother), Rita Tushingham (Peggy), Colin Mace (Taxi Driver #1), Pauline McLynn (Carol), Terence Stamp (Silver Haired Gentleman)

Edgar Wright just might be the most brilliant and creative film director to have yet emerged in the 21st century. The three films he directed and co-wrote with leading man Simon Pegg -- the so-called Cornetto trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End -- are not just extremely funny, they are loaded with cinematic delights, a fusion of British wit, dazzling artistry, and an overt love for various genres and tropes of cinema. Wright's two North American productions without Pegg -- 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 2017's Baby Driver -- have similarly been widely appreciated marvels, the latter registering as the filmmaker's first bona fide commercial triumph as well.

While Wright's first five directorial efforts have led us to expect great things from him on every outing, they have not exactly foretold Last Night in Soho. I'm doubtful that any of Wright's initial quintet has passed the Bechdel test and even if so, none could be celebrated for he and Pegg having written a strong and complex female character. The most iconic distaff personality in a Wright film to date -- Scott Pilgrim's chameleon-haired love interest Ramona Flowers -- was the creation of graphic novelist Bryan Lee O'Malley and itself has been criticized as the poster child for the so-called manic pixie dream girl archetype.

As if in response both to this largely unvoiced criticism and to everything that has been going on in the film industry since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and Baby Driver antagonist Kevin Spacey in the fall of 2017, Wright gives us his by far most feminist and female empowering work to date in Soho. It tells the tale of Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), a girl from the British countryside with fashion design ambitions and a pronounced retro style. Introduced dancing to British Invasion tunes into a bedroom adorned with a picture of Twiggy and a Breakfast at Tiffany's poster, our first impression of Eloise is that she is simply a mod teen of the '60s. But those Beats headphones she's using are not the glaring anachronism. She is and her present-day classmates at the Fashion School do not quickly warm to her, least of all her flatmate who tries to one-up her dead mum sob story.

Present-day fashion student Eloise (Thomasin Mckenzie) gets a glimpse into the 1960s lifestyle of aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) in Edgar Wright's "Last Night in Soho."

Feeling out of place among her partying peers and uncomfortable with the advances of her cisgender male classmates, the self-rebranded Ellie finds a little apartment for rent in a nearby street. One night there, she is whisked away to the same locale in her favorite era, co-existing in some way with Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a confident and stylish aspiring blonde songstress. Our first impression of this fantasy is akin to Owen Wilson's enriching nightly excursions to the 1920s in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. The looks and sounds that Ellie has grown up idolizing are intoxicating and they seem to imbue her with some much-needed newfound confidence upon her daily return to the present day.

But an Edgar Wright movie never exists in just one genre and Soho proves to be more complicated and chilling than its first impression. The would-be songstress' stage dreams soon give way to compromise as she basically becomes a call girl to influential men under the pimpy talent manager Jack (Matt Smith). This downward spiral creates a mystery for Ellie to unravel in the present day and even if you think you're a step ahead of the film: the devilish old lecher (Terence Stamp) must clearly be the aged talent manager, for instance -- Wright has more than a few twists and turns up his sleeve.

The film doesn't exactly stick the landing. The resolution does not fully exonerate all that has unfolded before it. Nonetheless, even if Soho falls short of the nearly impossible heights of Wright's best works (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead), it still ends up in the same league as Wright's other two, movies that unquestionably stood among the better efforts of their respective years. The most satisfying thing about this work is that Wright is not repeating himself. The alien bits of The World's End felt obligatory after much time was takent to establish a grounded tale of reunited friends. Even Baby Driver, as enjoyable as it was, felt like a somewhat obvious ode to heist and getaway films that didn't have enough narratively to embrace wholeheartedly. Soho may be more divisive still and it's safe to say the general public won't flock to it the way that the leading ladies' electronically vocal supporters would suggest. But at least it finds Wright building a universe from the ground up and exploring ideas that neither he nor anyone else have mined to exhaustion.

Retro-minded Eloise (Thomasin Mckenzie) is naturally drawn in by the colorful world of 1960s London that Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) calls home.

Soho's delights include standing as a showcase for fine acting. Besides giving juicy roles to the much-seasoned Stamp and the recently deceased Diana Rigg, who plays Ellie's old-fashioned new landlord, the film also allows McKenzie to shine like never before. It's crazy how in just three years during which most of the world has seemed to stand still, the young New Zealander who was strikingly understated in Debra Granik's beautiful Leave No Trace is so at ease carrying a film as flashy as this. McKenzie adds another fine work to her resume which advanced with a role in Taika Waitit's 2019 Oscar winning World War II comedy Jojo Rabbit. Not since Jennifer Lawrence has an actress displayed this much maturity, promise, and good taste at such a young age. I am as interested to see what's next for her as I am in what is next for Wright, which may not be the Baby Driver sequel that is in the works.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Belfast The French Dispatch Eternals Antlers The Last Duel No Time to Die
Directed by Edgar Wright: Baby Driver The World's End Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Hot Fuzz

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Reviewed October 29, 2021.

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