Friday Film Review--"Last Night in Soho"
A new movie, out in theaters and also streaming, teaches us that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
You might say that “Last Night in Soho” is a cautionary tale about wishing you could go back to the good old days.
The central character, Ellie (played by Thomasin McKenzie) has grown up in rural Cornwall dreaming of becoming a clothes designer, and adoring the Sixties—the era of “England swings like a pendulum do.”
She is admitted to a London fashion academy, but feels like a square and out-of-place dorming with her crass fellow students. Ellie manages to rent a small single-room apartment, and the result is something amazing.
At night, she drops into an alternate reality—London in the mid-1960’s, with Connery’s James Bond at his peak, neon and swanky nightclubs, and Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark supplying the soundtrack.
She is swept up in the life of a fab ingenue named Sandie (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Or rather, it appears like Ellie is Sandie, but also is a separate presence, observing events from mirrors or the invisible sidelines.
Sandie falls in with Jack, a promoter who hoists his liquor with one hand and coolly puffs a cigarette with the other, and who promises to make Sandie a star. If that’s not enough panache for you, he’s also played by former Dr. Who Matt Smith.
Is this the Twilight Zone or a dream? Unfortunately, after a few
more trips into the past, the answer is, it’s a nightmare. Sandie is put to work as a tawdry go-go dancer, and soon after, Jack pimps her out to an endless succession of leering, well-dressed customers.
The movie enters its second phase here, with Sixties London becoming less like an Austin Powers routine, and more like a Guillermo Del Toro horror flick.
We’re left to wonder if visions of the past are driving Ellie crazy, or if she was unbalanced in the first place, which is hinted at early in the movie. The question becomes more urgent when Ellie witnesses, or rather lives, a murder.
In the third phase of the story, Ellie becomes a detective, trying to figure out if a killing did indeed occur 55 years ago.
Director and co-writer Edgar Wright, known for “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, looks like he’s mashing up three different movies—a dreamy nostalgia piece, a Me Too-oriented psychological horror tale, and a plot-twisty mystery. I’m not sure they work together, especially when the climax boils them down into an apocalyptic hash.
But visually, Wright is always dazzling. His two heroines, different sides of one coin, are compelling---McKenzie, with her husky whisper, and Taylor-Joy, who is sexy and then tragic.
And we have to mention that the film features three icons of Sixties British cinema—Rita Tushingham as Ellie’s grandmum; Terence Stamp as a dodgy-looking old gent; and the late Diana Rigg in a pivotal role, and her last screen appearance.
For being intriguing, and easy to dance to, but also flawed, I rate “Last Night in Soho” a three on a scale of five.