Pros:deals with complex issues intelligently, while never failing to entertain; excellent performances
The Bottom Line: I think anyone who's ever felt like an outsider can relate to some aspect of My Beautiful Laundrette.
Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Pakistani man living in Britain. While he is close to his family and enjoys hearing stories of the old country, he doesn't speak their language and embraces capitalism. A gig washing cars for his well-off uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) leads to an opportunity to manage his uncle's dingy laundromat, which Omar plans to turn into something beautiful. To succeed in this task, he enlists the help of "a bloke of astounding competence and strength of body and mind," his childhood friend Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), who becomes not only his worker, but his lover.
Sometimes referred to as a "gay movie," My Beautiful Laundrette is much more than that. Director Stephen Frears and writer Hanif Kureishi deal intelligently with themes of racism, family loyalty, and class differences, to name a few. Though he's economically successful, Nasser doesn't entertain notions of being accepted into British culture; he knows this will never happen (when they find out he's working for Omar, Johnny's friends chide him, "Why are you working for him? They were brought here to work for us."), nor does he really want it. His brother, Omar's father (Roshan Seth), speaks of going back home, to which Nasser responds, "That country's been sodomised by religion. It's beginning to interfere with the making of money."
The Omar/Johnny relationship is handled very matter-of-factly and realistically. They have a great chemistry and care about each other, but they also experience difficulties along the way. Refreshingly, they don't go out of their way to hide the relationship, although Nasser wants Omar to marry his daughter Tania. The racism theme is also dealt with honestly. It is not just the whites who hate the Pakistanis; the upwardly mobile Pakistanis look down on the poor whites.
That's not to say My Beautiful Laundrette is all politics. There are touches of humor, such as a background character who's constantly arguing with his girlfriend on the phone in the laundromat. The film deals with serious subject matter, but it's also oddly warm and engaging. And it is the characters who drive the story. Fortunately, they are brought to life by a talented cast of actors. Watching this film, it's easy to see why Day-Lewis went on to stardom, and disappointing that Warnecke never did. Both make their characters complicated, passionate, and believable. Jaffrey and Seth are also good in their supporting roles.
The film takes place in Thatcher-era England, and we get a feel for a society filled with tension, conflicts and struggle. The story is not restricted to a certain time or place, however; I think anyone who's ever felt like an outsider can relate to some aspect of My Beautiful Laundrette.
The MGM DVD is unfortunately bare-bones, offering nothing more than a theatrical trailer.
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