Monday, November 16, 2015

My Beautiful Launderette Turns 30

If you are blessed with no living memory of the 1980s, Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Launderette offers a full immersion in the era’s visual, social and political aesthetic. Set in Margaret Thatcher’s rugged, greed-is-good London of 30 years ago, the film paints an intimate portrait of a family of Pakistani immigrants as they hustle and dodge their way to something that resembles economic prosperity. However, as these small time capitalists will eventually learn, money is no substitute for happiness.

At the center of the cultural maelstrom is young Omar (Gordon Warnecke) who has dropped out of college and gone on the dole to care for his alcoholic, poetry spouting father (Roshan Seth). But with the help of a rich uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) who owns a variety of thriving - if not strictly legal - businesses, Omar works his way up the family hierarchy and eventually takes over a decrepit laundromat in a decaying south London neighborhood. There, he gets reacquainted with a childhood friend (Daniel Day-Lewis) with whom he shared much more than a passion for Crystal Palace football. Together, they work to rehab the laundry, making it a badly needed source of pride for this downtrodden community.

To movie goers in 1985, My Beautiful Launderette caused quite a stir for its frank, non judgmental depiction of a gay romance. Equally unique, this unconventional relationship wasn’t the main focus of the story, but merely an intriguing subplot. The film was one of the first to suggest that gay people were capable of living successful, well rounded lives with their sexual preference comprising just one piece of a much larger mosaic. Despite its groundbreaking approach, My Beautiful Launderette also fits into the classic traditions of the British New Wave films of the 1950s, when the spy thrillers and costume epics that defined British cinema prior to WWII were replaced by gritty, realistic portrayals of the UK’s class struggles and social ills.

My Beautiful Launderette is also notable for giving the world its first glimpse of a young force of nature named Daniel Day-Lewis in a featured role. In fact, a year later when this film and Room with a View (1985) opened in New York simultaneously, the actor’s career was given a double boost to stardom. Here, his portrayal of a laconic, slack jawed post-punker gives him only a few opportunities to shine, yet even at this early stage his performance is peppered with subtle details that verge on perfection. All great journeys must begin somewhere, and with My Beautiful Launderette Daniel Day-Lewis set out on a course to master his craft, winning 3 Oscars en route to his destination.

1 comment:

Paul van Yperen said...

This is a groundbreaking film that I went to see many times. Very funny, romantic and optimistic, in many ways. Thanks for the excellent review.

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