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Last Night in Soho

“Matt, just tell me if the producers paid you more for your role than mine, and I’ll let you go.”

Synopsis: Young woman in present-day London starts getting scary visions of early 1960’s Soho. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Were you a suburban kid? Just nod if the answer is ‘yes.’  You’ll be familiar with the teen desire to head to the city –London, New York or Toronto (well, maybe not Toronto) — and be transformed into a cool kid.

In Last Night in Soho, a young English woman, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, so good in Leave No Trace and Jojo Rabbit) dreams of success as a fashion designer in London. She’s a meek, dreamy girl in the hinterlands. She lives with her gran and when not sketching designs, she vamps around her room, dancing to sunshine-y tunes.  Yay for Elle, she gets into fashion school in London! She bubbles with excitement, but like any kid from the burbs she wonders if she can succeed or will she be conquered by the big city.

Let’s consider how she might handle herself…On the plus side: she is talented and determined. On the con side: she listens to a lot of pop music and sometimes sees her mum in the mirror. So what, says you. Well… the songs are not by Bad Bunny or Phoebe Bridgers, they are hits from Swinging London in the early 1960’s. Eeesh… And her mum is dead. Yikes.

But Elle bravely sets off for fashion school in London, clad in an outfit she made herself. As fate would have it, she has a horrendous roomie, Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), who looks like a young Kate Middleton.  Jocasta immediately starts mean girling Elle; sneering as she “compliments” her and making her the brunt of her humor (“country mouse!”) when a group of students head to Soho for a night of partying.  Back at the dorm, a guy teasingly grabs her earbuds and after a quick baffled listen, asks her why she listens to granny music. To add insult to injury, she is sexiled from her room and ends up falling asleep in a chair in the filthy common room.

This won’t do! Elle finds herself a bedsit in an old Soho flat. The room she’s shown hasn’t been re-decorated in fifty years, which suits Elle. The elderly landlady (Dame Diana Rigg!) is a no-nonsense sort who tells Elle: No noisiness or  overnight guests. Just like Elle likes. Things are looking up! Until they’re not…

Elle gets a parttime job at a bar to make ends meet and finance her purchase of retro clothes from the Swinging Sixties– think Mary Quant. Elle also turns all her class assignments into sartorial reimaginings of the time, all mini skirts and bold patterns. And she starts warming up to friendly overtures from John (Michael Ajao), another fashion student. If only her ex-roomie would stop assailing her. She’s just jealous, Eloise!

Going a bit far with the ‘smokey eye’ trend.

Elle is in danger. She’s in danger of London Madness. Big City Madness can happen in any large, busy metropolitan area. Except Toronto. The excitement becomes too much and you can’t recognize friend or foe. Denizens of London have many centuries of maddened souls, flattened by the cutthroat competition and ice-cold stares of your average Londoner.

Elle has an added stressor. She starts seeing people from the 60’s era who may or may not have existed. Is she mad or clairvoyant? At first, she rolls with it because when she goes to sleep at night, instead of going to Dreamland, she finds herself walking into the exciting club scene of the Swinging Sixties. Maybe it was brought on by the vintage clothes she’s been buying– trench coats or even go go boots can be haunted.

When Elle finds herself at a happening club, she notices her reflection in a set of wall mirrors and sees that she looks like Anya Taylor-Joy ( crazy talented in The Witch and Queen’s Gambit). Understandably, she is stoked. She gets confident with her new drab-to-fab look and brushes off the creepy older guys who try and pick her up. Hello! Who’s this fizzy glass of Babycham?  Matt Smith looking thirst-quenching.  Maybe a touch smarmy though? Sparks fly and soon the highlight of Elle’s day is bedtime.

Last Night in Soho keeps us in suspense as to whether Elle is inventing this aspiring singer named Sandie/Anya or watching events of the 1960s. Matt Smith (the best Dr Who?) –ie., Jack is seriously shady, but “Sandie” is swept off her feet, especially when he offers to be her agent. But instead of being a club headliner, she is a backup dancer in a burlesque show.  Now, in the great Cher movie Burlesque, Christina Aguilera quickly gets a chance to wow everyone with her pipes, but things aren’t going in that direction for our friend. Sadly, there is no Stanley Tucci character to clue her into the sharks who circle pretty young women with showbiz dreams. But a clueless girl of any era — talking to you, Sandie– can recognize that when your boyfriend wants you to sleep with his “friends” it is time to run away. Or in Elle’s case, wake up.

I should let you know that there are spates of stabbiness in the movie and that Elle is in danger of caffeine addiction, as now she doesn’t want to sleep at all. Oh, and she starts seeing ghostly creeps from her dreams in her waking real life. Possibly.

I was scared for Elle (Thomasin) and Sandie (Anya). And I started to feel nauseated every time they played the treacly and cheesey 1965 song Downtown that Elle adores. No wonder she is losing her mind!

I considered that if Last Night in Soho was an American production, they might have pushed the setting to the late 1960’s and have been able to pay for an amazing Beatles song. Or at least, Led Zeppelin. And New York has its own Soho. But then they producers would’ve swapped the perfectly cast Ms.’s McKenzie and Taylor-Jones for Elle Fanning and Zendaya. And that, dear cinephile, would be madness.

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:   B-

Cut to the Chase: Stylish horror that’s more psychological than gory.

Humor Highlight:  Ms. Rigg as the landlady. When a spooked Elle asks her if anyone has died in the house, Dame Diana shrugs off her query, barking that people have died all over in London’s old houses.  Uh, maybe it’s time to head home to gran in the ‘burbs.

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