Review: Last Night in Soho
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2021: Something is rotten in the state of Soho, argues Edgar Wright in his delightful folly
Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho [+see also:
film profile], a completely mental tale of retro fashion and a past that refuses to leave, even when asked very nicely, is the sort of film that’s supposed to mostly entertain its maker. A bit like Grindhouse, that odd experiment by Rodriguez and Tarantino – where Edgar Wright was also invited along for the ride, delivering a fake trailer for Don’t – the film, screening out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, is made with love and attention to detail, perhaps too much of it, even. It’s love that won’t be easily shared by all, however.
With the help of co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Wright leaves the Shaun of the Deads and the Baby Driver [+see also:
film profile]s behind, focusing on wide-eyed girls this time around. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) might be a wannabe fashion designer, finally making it to the big city, but it’s no Peter Strickland’s In Fabric [+see also:
interview: Peter Strickland
film profile] – here, it’s not some possessed dress that begins to torment people, but dreams of a life once lived, and then broken. The present is a struggle for Ellie, and probably always has been, so she tends to turn to the soothing 1960s instead. Or rather, a certain image of that decade, with its sweet songs and Biba outfits, and none of the dirt showing. When, just like everyone told her, she realises that “London is a lot” and moves into a room rented out by an older lady (Diana Rigg in her final role, herself the ultimate 1960s diva thanks to The Avengers), she can finally get a bit closer to what she desires.
When we all fall asleep, where do we go? - that was Billie Eilish’s question. The answer is: Soho. In her dreams, Ellie starts following aspiring starlet Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, all eyes and charisma), who used to live in the same room. They both have an ambition to make it, yet only Sandie seems to possess the drive. There is a bond that forms and immediately goes to weird places. At first, Ellie wants to be her. Then, she wants to escape her, as observing Sadie’s story is no longer fun. But it won’t be so easy, and the people around her start to worry as well. After all, the scourge of mental illness has marked her family before, and it’s really not okay to almost stab your fellow student with a pair of scissors.
Wright has already been mentioning the dangers of “romanticising the past” in his first few interviews about the movie, and it’s true – it’s easy to get swept off one’s feet by nostalgia and a longing for some time when the music was better and the people were different, although was it and were they, really? Or maybe the pain was always the same, with fewer options for escape? For all its colours and tremendous songs (with Petula Clark’s “Downtown” blasting all over Venice this year, also popping up in Becoming Led Zeppelin [+see also:
film profile], with riffs courtesy of a young Jimmy Page), this tale is really rather dark and quite timely, with questions about consent and sexual trauma explored alongside some pretty upsetting visions.
Some of its “girl power” themes feel forced, and Michael Ajao’s character, as Ellie’s confidant/love interest, really seems to exist only to prove that not all men are bad. But it’s still fun, soaked in those neon lights and reportedly inspired by Polański’s Repulsion, which would actually make sense. Wright has asked journalists to steer clear of spoilers, making sure that “whatever happens in Last Night in Soho, stays in Soho”. Who knows what else is lurking around those dark corners. And in the meantime, if you are thinking of going into that house... If you are thinking of opening that door... If you are thinking of checking out the basement... DON’T!
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