So the wife and I decided to catch filmmaker Edgar Wright’s latest at the moving picture show last night, Last Night in Soho. I had never been as big of a fan of his work as some people–he seems to have a fairly devout base of fanboys–but I always thought that he at least knows how to serve up a decent couple of hours or so of entertainment. Actual storytelling was never quite Wright’s greatest strength but at least his movies were usually funny. Any plot deficiencies that Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz may have had were more than compensated by the humor that permeated those movies, as schoolboyish as it may be. I never got the impression from Wright that he was ever necessarily out to make grand cinematic masterpieces. His goal always seemed to be to simply provide some decent distraction for the moviegoer’s dollar. And that’s perfectly fine. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that at all.
But now he’s given us Last Night in Soho. It seems that Edgar wants to take himself a little more seriously these days, which is also fine, but the result is a bright and pretty neon dish that unfortunately serves up some very confused storytelling, with very little of the laughter that is usually to be had in his films. It’s so confusing, and so offensive to the audience’s intelligence, as to be downright embarrassing.
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Wright has become anxious to change things up a bit and get a little more artsy. “Evolve or die,” as the late John Lennon once said during the recording of Sgt. Pepper. Wright’s 2017 movie Baby Driver attempted to extend his artistic reach beyond his usual grasp, but as far as plot and story goes, that action-heist-car chase crime thriller is far more satisfying than Soho. Of course, Wright reportedly spent two decades developing Driver, having started working on the script as an adolescent. Soho feels like it was slapped together over a long weekend of heavy drinking and bong hits some time during the height of the #MeToo controversy. This is all the more perplexing considering that the film was co-written with a woman screenwriter, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who also co-wrote the script of Sam Mendes’ perfectly respectable (if not entirely memorable) World War I drama, 1917, for which she shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay with Mendes. Soho is definitely attempting to make some kind of a statement about women and what they have had to deal with in the professional world in both the past and in the present, but whatever it is that it’s trying to say is much too garbled to make out. Surely Wilson-Cairns must have a more distinct take.
The film looks good, to be sure. Edgar Wright never fails to deliver pretty pictures and some interesting camera work, and he obviously finds mid-1960s London to be quite the inspiration. But–and this should be more than obvious to a filmmaker of Wright’s caliber–if you’re going to pull a bait-and-switch on your audience, the switch had better turn out be a lot more satisfying than what they thought they were getting when they took the bait. At the very least, you shouldn’t totally undermine in the final act a major part of the premise that you had set up in the first.
It was entirely fitting that Wright should cast veteran actors Terrence Stamp and Diana Rigg in a film that in part harkens back to the swinging ’60s. But Stamp turns out to be a mostly incidental character and so he’s unjustly wasted in this movie. And it’s very sad that this was Rigg’s final curtain. Young lead actress Thomasin McKenzie is fine in the lead role of Eloise considering that she’s saddled with a character who’s almost an entirely reactive protagonist, an apparently unintended irony considering the film’s semi-feminist pretensions. (McKenzie was far better in the underrated and underappreciated JoJo Rabbit.) Matt Smith also appears to be trying his best with the script’s shallow character development.
I appear to be a part of a small minority, however. Soho has an audience rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and though the critics’ rating is a more tepid 74%, that strikes me as surprisingly high in light of just how bad this film is. As horror, while I suppose it does have its moments of creepiness, it’s not really that scary. There aren’t any moments that shock and jolt you out of your seat. This flick also fails as suspense. Only a total moron would fail to see the film’s supposed “twist” being telegraphed well in advance of its “big reveal” (which, as I’ve alluded to above, completely contradicts a major element of the film’s established premise, leaving the viewer completely befuddled). Either people are getting dumber, or perhaps I’m becoming more and more crotchety as I age. Or maybe it’s both.
Last Night in Soho does seem to be the kind of neon-shiny crap that people typically flock to these days.