Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright's latest is more mature, but slightly flatter than his previous work
Edgar Wright has been marked as one of the most talented and creative filmmakers working in the past two decades. He certainly made a mark with his Cornetto trilogy and developed a cult following for his distinct style. However, Wright has struggled to break out of the male-fantasy perspectives that plotted his films. While many had been tongue-in-cheek, they nevertheless put forth the harmful images they were supposedly criticizing. Wright seems to make amends by centering on a female protagonist for the first time with Last Night in Soho (2021).
Last Night in Soho follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a small-town girl who moves to London to begin her dream by studying at a fashion design university. When she sleeps at her new apartment, however, she discovers that she is transported to a previous life, following in the footsteps of an aspiring singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) in the 1960s. While this initially inspires Eloise and her design work at school, it also becomes toxic in how it begins to blur the lines between dream, memory, and reality for her.
Wright has always been fascinated with nostalgia, as can be seen by the varied number of references and winks throughout his filmography. This is most apparent in his musical choices as well, with many fans admiring his deliciously curated soundtracks. It was thus rather refreshing to see Wright analyze the darker and more dangerous side of nostalgia and memories of an overtly-glitzy past. By shifting to a female protagonist, Wright is able to explore the objectification and sexual harassment that the “swinging sixties” have often forgotten about; it also permits him to emit a kind of mea culpa about his own scarcely written and objectification of female characters.
Last Night in Soho brings all of Wright’s cinematic strengths along with some maturity. His style is slightly restrained so as to service the story instead of showing off, something that Baby Driver (2017) was already evidencing. However, Wright is also exploring darker subject matter than in his previous films, leaving comedy by the wayside entirely. This works slightly against him since laughs had been a way to endear characters to viewers. Eloise and Sandie are intriguing enough thanks to some strong performances from the two central actresses, but with all the gloom and a split storyline, it’s hard for viewers to fully become attached or immersed with either’s journey. This hurts the portions in Last Night in Soho, where Eloise is supposedly seeing visions and being erratic, since viewers are not attached enough to panic alongside her, we rather see her as rude and clumsy.
The idea of a character going back to a reminiscent era has been used many times before. The most recent and prominent being Midnight in Paris (2011). However, Woody Allen’s film worked because the past was more of an addition to the protagonist’s story. In Last Night in Soho, Sandie’s story supplants Eloise’s. This makes the anxious struggles that Eloise goes through in her first college days to be diluted by the more cliched struggling-artist narrative of Sandie. Wright also resorts to the cheap jump scares that are far below his capabilities, instead of the more difficult but infinitely more effective building of dread.
In the end, Last Night in Soho proves to be a rather mature and deeper reflection of Wright on his own tendencies and filmography. However, the narrative and story elements don’t function smoothly enough, leading to a flat and less electric affair than what the British director had accustomed us to.