Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
United Kingdom, 2021. Complete Fiction, Film4, Focus Features International, Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films. Story by Edgar Wright, Screenplay by Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park, Edgar Wright. Music by Steven Price. Production Design by Marcus Rowland. Costume Design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux. Film Editing by Paul Machliss.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman who dreams of leaving her suburban home and going to London to become a star in the world of fashion design, hoping to resurrect the spirit of the swinging sixties that she has learned to love from her devoted grandmother (Rita Tushingham, one of the handful of sixties icons who appears in this film). After being accepted into a top-rated design school, Eloise immediately packs her bags with her (first twee alert) favourite old sixties music records and promises her gran that she’ll be fine in the city that she is frequently being warned will be “a lot” for her. The concern for her welfare is good reasoning, Eloise lives under the spectre of her late mother whom she has the ability to see in supernatural visions, a power that could possibly overwhelm her when factoring in the stress of living on her own for the first time and trying to do well in school.
Upon arrival in the big city, Eloise has to figure her way through slimy cab drivers and mean girls at school before something even bigger happens to her: moving out of student housing and getting a job at a pub to pay for her own bedsit (with Diana Rigg as her landlord), she is immediately plunged into visions from the past of the woman who lived in her apartment in the sixties, an aspiring singer named Sandy (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who trusts the wrong man with her own dreams and ends up being prostituted against her will instead. At first, visiting Sandy’s world is a delight to visit, Eloise enjoys seeing her take a nightclub by storm and is thrilled by her romance with her new man, so inspired by Sandy that she begins to design the dresses she sees in her trips to the past and dyes her hair to look more like her, but as Eloise continues to spend time in this phantom world, things turn dark and lead to the unveiling of a long-hidden mystery. As the visions become more powerful, our heroine begins to lose control of all the plates she has spinning in the air and the people around her become concerned that maybe the city is too much for her after all.
Edgar Wright is likely inspired by Dario Argento giallo horrors of the past in both the tone and milieu of this retro horror fantasy, but the content doesn’t have the narrative drive or charismatic personality that would be necessary to make up for what is ultimately a mystery plot with very little mystery and a twist that, if you pay close enough attention to the casting, is easy to see coming. An overemphasis on style, with Wright filming everything like he’s remaking Batman Forever, is possibly meant to discourage less guessing about the plot’s secrets and focus us on the story’s themes of perpetual female victimhood, it is after all a tale of two young women who, though separated by decades, are relegated to the same disadvantage in a city that has been designed as a sexual playground for irresponsible men. Where to go with these themes ultimately proves to be very confusing, Eloise never actually does anything other than have panic attacks in reaction to the things she sees (which is eventually really annoying, for someone who has known about her ability to see visions her whole life she does have a strange habit of constantly being surprised that they’re happening) and never gains any wisdom from them, and then the plot takes a conservative turn in its conclusion that celebrates the older generation’s admonishments about young kids who can’t take care of themselves today.
It’s baffling that Wright would make a movie basically telling kids to get off his lawn considering that they’re his main demographic, but it’s even more shocking that he thinks an entire movie can revolve around as insipid a performance as McKenzie is delivering, her squeaky voice and constant gasping desperation make Saoirse Ronan look like Sylvester Stallone. Taylor-Joy fares much better, both her performance and character are far more complex and interesting, but she’s given far less screen time than her co-star and leaves one wanting for more from her by the end.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021