Warning: Spoilers of the films Last Night in Soho (2021) and Midnight in Paris (2011)
Have you ever felt nostalgia for a time you never lived through? In the 2011 Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a writer infatuated with the 1920s, helplessly nostalgic to breathe the Parisian air that Hemmingway, Dahli, and Fitzgerald once did.
Gil is obsessed with the time period in every sense- the music, the art, and even the women. Gil’s cynical, pseudo-intellectual acquaintance, however, sees this obsessive nostalgia as a sort of mental disorder he calls “Golden Age Thinking” which he defines as “the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Edgar Wright’s new thriller, Last Night in Soho follows Eloise, a mousey but passionate teenager with her own case of “Golden Age Syndrome,” hers being London in the ’60s. She’s got it bad, and like Gil, is ostracized because of it.
Eloise lives in a quaint little town in England with her grandmother and has hefty dreams of going to fashion school in London. This dream sparks tensions as her late mother also had dreams of entering the fashion world but it is implied early in the film that she died by suicide after moving to London.
Eloise is, of course, accepted to said fashion school, and upon arrival is made fun of by schoolmates for her hankering to live out the 60’s. Her quirky handmade 60’s inspired clothes and infatuation with vintage music are depicted as setting her apart from the mainstream.
The believability of Eloise’s victimization here is questionable, considering today’s teen pop culture revolves around revamped vintage trends. The emotional hazing towards Eloise from her roommate and female acquaintances however is brutal. We can’t help but understand her choice to rent a flat on her own.
Eloise is somehow lucky enough to find an affordable London apartment, run by a stern but seemingly caring elderly landlord. Her new room feels lived-in and for that reason appears perfect for a vintage-loving girl like herself.
The film becomes disheveled when Eloise falls asleep in her new eclectic room. She shifts into the type of dream world that a young girl like her would purposely script. Her dream keeps her in London, but it is, of course, the swinging 60’s baby!
Oh… and also, she is now a blonde, stylish, outgoing, aspiring singer named Sandy, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Basically she gets to experience everything she wants to be but is not.
Eloise’s time-travel dreams start out on a Midnight-in-Paris type beat: A glamorous trip to a seemingly ideal time period. During the day, Eloise is still Eloise, attending fashion school but slowly spiraling while trying to conceptualize the nighttime. Each night her dreams reveal more and more of the highly anticipated “thriller” plot.
Cinematography shines during these dream sequences as mirrors are utilized to invoke a continually morphing feeling of Eloise’s first person and third person perspective of Sandy. At times, Eloise is out-of-body, and sometimes she is fully living as Sandy.
During Eloise’s time-warping dream spirals, the 60’s become ugly, seeping further and further from the previously idealized version in her head. It turns out that Eloise has far less control of her dreams than she anticipated. Sandy resorts to sex work in order to make it as a singer, and these conditions lead to horrifying acts that Eloise has to live through every night.
So… what does it all mean? I’m sure anyone who has lived through the 60’s would tell you it wasn’t all free love and great music. The 60’s were tough. Especially for women. There are scenes in the film that lightly touch the detriments of being a woman and living in the city, both then and now, but it is unclear what exactly Edgar Wright is trying to make a movie about.
Pre-release, Last Night in Soho enticed many. People hear the words “period piece thriller,” “eclectic 60’s soundtrack,” “vintage fashion,” “Anya Taylor Joy,” and they melt. I did. Sounds like a dream, right?
The first half of the film lives up to the glamorous cinematic universe we were promised. We get the captivating and accurate costuming by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, we see the fabulous Anya Taylor Joy in her prime with a beehive hairdo, we listen to the well-curated needle drops including The Who, The Kinks, and Sandie Shaw. But none of this can cover up the lack of direction within the second half.
The intricacy and care put into accurate 60’s costuming and music do not sit nicely next to a half-chewed plotline on a serious topic. Edgar Wright mutilates the “ugly” parts of the 60’s as a medium to create his thriller plot.
The ending sentiment of Last Night in Soho, however, is something I can get behind. Similar to Midnight in Paris, the message (I think) is: “We are in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with our current time period so you should just enjoy the present.” Maybe Edgar Wright has “Golden age Syndrome.” and this film was his terrifying way of projecting it.