ST. LOUIS — Some films are just enchanting. Just don't confuse that word with immediate romance. Movies can sweep the mind off its feet in a variety of ways, even if the entertainment level branches off into cinematic intoxication.
One could attach that label easily to Edgar Wright's latest flick, "Last Night in Soho," a movie that is as sexy as its title suggests--and then some. Wright is having a very good year, with "The Sparks Brothers" documentary bringing them awards-likely accolades before the release of "Soho," a film that takes a few chances, but in a good way.
Let me spin the plot like Wright spins a soundtrack (another must-listen), with an equal amount of persuasion and restraint. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) isn't exactly a teenage outcast, but she is a soul enamored by her own mind alone. When she jets off to London's most provocative and dangerous area (wink, wink the title) for fashion designer school, innocent Eloise enters a whole new world. Brand new like a candy bar perfectly wrapped, but hiding a few of civilization's worst attributes.
While her vivid mind produces breathtaking illustrations, Eloise finds herself swept away by her apartment, accompanied by a firm yet fair landlord (Diana Rigg). But being swept away in this particular building transports our heroine back to the 1960s, where she sees a different face in the mirror instead of her own: the luscious singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The rabbit hole from there only deepens, with her entire world being thrown into chaotic confusion.
That's all you'll get on plot. From there, we meet various precarious souls, some more cunning (Matt Smith's Jack) and mysterious (Terence Stamp's silver-haired gentlemen), with others being more warm and trustworthy (Michael Ajao's John). But it's a slow dance between the minds of two women, bound by something out of our initial understanding, that powers Wright's tale.
One of the great things about "Last Night in Soho" is its ability to misdirect, or mildly invert, your expectations. For the first sixty minutes, one can't be sure which genre Wright is playing in this time--but then the film starts to take some form of a shape before a jaw-dropping finale. You won't see this end coming, and that's a credit to Wright's story and Krysty Wilson-Cairns' screenplay. It keeps your movie mind guessing while soaking your ears in comfort.
Wright is a big-time music fan, akin to Quentin Tarantino and James Gunn proportions. His collection of tunes acts as a supporting player just as much as the classy setting does in "Soho," including Taylor-Joy's smoldering cover of "Downtown."
Talk about a show-stopping performance by a show-stopping performer. Taylor-Joy's haunting work as the woman of Eloise's nightmares carries the film's second half, when the unknown starts to outnumber the elementary. Her vocal work on "Downtown" kick starts the second half and keeps her lingering around the edge of the film in each following frame. She bends the screen to her will.
McKenzie commands the screen in her own way, acting as our navigator and subject. It's her that we see singing and dancing her way gleefully out of her bedroom in the opening scene. Eloise is haunted by multiple things in her life at a young age, and the performance required a certain texture to it. McKenzie is up for the challenge, mirroring Taylor-Joy's Sandie in unexpected ways.
Rigg's Ms. Collins has layers attached to her performance, another lightning swing from the "Game of Thrones" actress. In a way, her character mirrors Wright's film: an unexpected delight with a great final bow. I wouldn't drive easy if Smith somehow stepped into my car for an Uber ride. There's a bad boy rebel tattooed all over his smile, and the actor leans into this particular devilish portrayal of good intentions gone rotten.
Look, I didn't leave the film wowed or searching for new ways to say "wonderful," but I was humming the soundtrack on the way home and still unpacking a thrilling ending. Believe me, "Last Night in Soho" is an enchanting, great-sounding and looking mystery carrying a nice punch at the end.
Love or hate it, you will respect the ambition.