My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette ★★★★½

Criterion Challenge 2021
49. Josh and Benny Safdie's Closet Picks

A refreshingly well-written and unpretentious look at class, gender, race, and sexuality in Thatcher's 80s London, My Beautiful Laundrette tackles these issues in a seamless, genuine and eminently watchable way. The movie seems a predecessor to films such as Do the Right Thing, where friends and enemies rub elbows simultaneously, and fights over class and race are taken to the streets when tensions boil over.

Gordon Warnecke is a joy to watch as ne'er-do-well Omar, the puckish nephew of a wealthy Pakistani family, whose father has failed to integrate into British society as a dissident journalist. The film does a wonderful job of showing the spectrum of the Pakistani community and conflicting attitudes thorough its characters, as well as the working class whites who resent the wealth and success that immigrants like Omar's uncle Nasser have in London.

A near constant presence in the run-down South London streets of the film is a leering group of white yobs, one of whom is Johnny, Omar's old childhood friend, played by a striking young Daniel Day-Lewis. Always ready with a cheeky grin, Johnny takes on the job of helping Omar remodel the run-down laundrette his uncle owns, and the two blossom into a romantic affair. What I like about Omar and Johnny's relationship is that it's very organic and unforced to the plot, a quality of the film in general, as new characters are woven in seamlessly.

The film has another engaging character in Tania, a possible bride for Omar, but really a young woman who is of the "new country," modern in her thinking and waiting to strike out on her own. To its credit Beautiful Laundrette deals with sexual politics in a sophisticated manner, particularly in the friendship between Johnny and Tania, who could be rivals for Omar's affections but rather are presented as affectionate, even flirtatious friends.

Finally, the shots are well-choreographed here, especially in the final scenes as the yobs wait to exact their revenge on the roof of the laundrette. The camera moves, up, down, all around to show every man in position, in a precise show of hitting all the marks. Just a really talented team led by director Stephen Frears in this all around excellent class comedy.

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