Wednesday 14 March 2007

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

If someone were to say, "Hey, let's watch some postcolonial biracial queer cinema?" I'm sure most of you would just stare blankly.

The cute. The sexy.

Using only one adjective, My Beautiful Laundrette is 'unconventional'. If I could add another, I would say 'smart'. Too smart for me, since there were moments during this film when the ambiguity of everyone's motivations was too much for my tiny brain to handle. I need a stark moral dichotomy, dammit! Am I supposed to cheer for Jerry Curl or boo him?!

This is Jerry Curl, doomed by his hairstyle to be interpreted as the villain.

The time is early 80s. The place is Thatcherite London, as seen through the eyes of Pakistani immigrants. Young Omar (Gordon Warnecke) lives in a "black hole of an apartment" with his Dickensian father, Papa (Roshan Seth... yes, you read correctly, ROSHAN SETH). A wallowing alcoholic Papa decides that Omar is wasting his life away by watching his father do the same, and so Papa decides to send Omar to work for his uncle, uber-capitalist Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey). Omar rises like a star (or... something else, hee hee) while working under Uncle Nasser's tutelage, and soon our hero is in charge of a steaming little laundromat just begging for a makeover. Enter Johnny (a hydrogen peroxided Daniel Day-Lewis), former friend of Omar and former fascist too. Contradictory? Well, I do always say that human beings are nothing if not contradictory.

Normally I crush on Roshan Seth but... aaaaaaah...

Some skinhead punks break a car while Jerry looks on.

Omar and Johnny fall in love. Or maybe they were just resuming a relationship left off from school. Or maybe Omar is just using Johnny for his brawn (Johnny is the laundrette's bouncer). Or maybe it's just sexual experimentation. Or maybe it's a symbol for British imperialism. Or maybe...

Well, it's clear that the movie offers no answers. Indeed, as another reviewer wrote, this movie poses many questions and gives us only a vacuum where the tidy solution should be. Even when such Big Issues as racism, homosexuality, and consumerism demand explanation in the minds of the curious (like me!), we're given only a brief window into these people's lives. And what a window! If you can be stoic enough to disregard the 80s cheese soundtrack (bubbles are included), this is a really fascinating and touching film.

Saeed Jaffrey assures us he will forward our mail.

Gordon Warnecke, who slipped away into obscurity during the 80s, puts in an OK, if a little too happy-and-alert-puppy, performance. Daniel Day-Lewis slices and dices and jumps with actorly acrobatics. That boy knows how to act, mmm-hmm. Saeed Jaffrey and Roshan Seth, one of my favorite Indian duos, bounce off each other nicely as the dashing sleazeball and self-righteous (and a little wasted) intellectual, respectively. This was directed by Stephen Frears, the same Frears who was nominated for The Queen this year.

Single tear. Sniff. A touched Saeed.

This is definitely worth a viewing, especially if you can cajole your manfriends to watch with you. Then watch them squirm during the boy-on-boy action, mwahahaha! For Roshan Seth lovers, a purifying post-My Beautiful Laundrette Gandhi viewing might be needed to remind ourselves why we ever found Seth attractive in the first place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this review several months ago, before I went to Bangalore for the summer. One night in Bangalore, I'm flicking between channnels on the TV and lo and behold, My Beautiful Laundrette comes on! I was surprised to see it on Indian television; it might have been a domestic cable/satellite channel.
Fantastic, trippy film. I'm surprised you didn't mention Omar's cousin. What a character!