Last Night in Soho (Quick Take)

Hot on the heels of his buzzy hit Baby Driver, Edgar Wright returns with Last Night in Soho, a movie that serves as both a Sixties tribute as well as a cautionary tale for those who view the past through rose colored glasses.

Soho is the story of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), an English country mouse who loves the Sixties and dreams of becoming a well-known fashion designer.  After leaving Cornwall to study fashion in London, she abandons residence hall life for a quaint flat in Soho.  At night, she finds herself transported back to the Sixties, and her avatar for the period is a blond bombshell named Alexandria (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Eloise spends night after night living vicariously through Alexandria, who serves as both adult fantasy figure and inspiration for her designs.  One night, Eloise “sees” Alexandria brutally killed at the hands of her boyfriend/pimp Jack (Matt Smith).  Haunted by the images of her fallen idol, Eloise digs into Soho’s past to uncover Jack’s identity.  The further her investigation goes, the more Eloise’s grip on reality loosens, forcing her to question whether the horrific visions she sees are real or imagined.

While I enjoyed Wright’s hyper-stylized direction and the performances of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, the movie abandons the playful devil-may-care tone of its first act for a much less satisfying horror/mystery combination.  Wright clearly wants to give modern audiences a more dangerous vision of London in the Sixties than Austin Powers, and he definitely succeeds.  As a director, Wright has a “more is wonderful” approach that I wish he had kept in check here, or at least stayed true to his original vision.  As it is, the movie frantically tries to wrap up everything by the end, with ghosts and visions and with a plot twist straight out of M. Night Shyamalan country.  The movie definitely goes off the rails, but like a flaming car, it’s entertaining to watch it go down and explode on impact.  Wright’s take on feminism also felt strangely curdled.

Appropriately named, Anya Taylor-Joy is a joy to watch as Alexandria, Wright’s vision of Sixties female sexuality writ large.  McKenzie plays Eloise with convincing doses of sensitivity and fragility.  As the senior members of the cast, Diana Rigg (in her last screen role) and Terence Stamp utilize their years of experience to bring depth and to their minor characters.  Ultimately, the stories of Eloise and Alexandria feel incomplete and stitched together.  Once the mystery of who killed Alexandria is set into motion, the movie proceeds at a frantic pace to tie everything up at the end, with a conclusion that was contrived and unconvincing.

Soho may be a hot mess of a movie, but it is entertaining in spite of its faults.  Mildly Recommended.

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