Venice 2021- “Last Night in Soho” and the Dangers of Nostalgia: Film Review

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, You can always go downtown…

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

Sandy’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) version of “Downtown” is a siren’s call, luring Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) and the audience to join her in metropolitan nirvana. But what happens when night falls and the bright lights begin to dim?

That is what Eloise is forced to find out. The aspiring fashion designer moves to the big city to attend ual: London College of Fasion. The brooding, soul crushing nature of the gigantic foggy city forces Eloise to retreat into the nostalgic comforts of classic records.

As she drifts off to sleep to musical stylings of Petula Clark, Eloise finds herself magically transported to the 1960s. Eloise and we the audience are dazzled by the elegance and class of the era, with stunning formal wear and a city center drenched in neon lights. Eloise finally finds her sense of purpose and belonging in this past.

Director Edgar Wright knows just how tempting the lure of nostalgia can be and uses it to fuel a thoroughly entertaining first act. Yet, with the sinister twists and turns that lie in the rest of the film (which I won’t spoil here), Last Night in Soho shows the danger of looking at history through rose colored glasses.

While Thomasin McKenzie does a respectable job as the film’s anxious protagonist, Anya Taylor-Joy as Eloise’s 60s mirror image, Sandy, is the true star of Last Night in Soho. One must wonder if Taylor-Joy came to the 21st century in a time machine given that she appears to have come straight from a 1960s Vogue cover. Yet there’s a devilish demeanor in the actress’ expressions that hint at the more sinister natures of the time period.

In an era where reboots and remakes are the norm for Hollywood, Wright has crafted a film that demonstrates how easy it is to get sucked into the nostalgic machine and the immense challenge of escaping it. While we’ll continue to see the umpteenth sequel to X-Men or Star Wars, it’s directors like Wright that will help keep pushing the boundaries of the cinematic form.

The Silver Lining

When Eloise steps into 1960s London, to the rest of that world, she appears to be Sandie. Wright’s use of mirrors, especially in the first act, helps the audience visualize the dual personalities of the protagonist. There are numerous shots of Sandie lurking in a bathroom mirror or in the reflection of a wine glass as Eloise is seduced by Jack (Matt Smith).

There’s a stunning sequence in particular where Jack dances with Eloise and Sandie interchangeably. As the camera moves clockwise around the dancing duo, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy duck in and out of frame, all in one unbroken take. It’s a magical sequence that fits right in with the masterclass framing and editing of Wright’s previous feature, Baby Driver.

Last Night in Soho is coming to a theater near you on October 29th.

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