! Critic Judy Stone
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My Beautiful Laundrette

In more ways than one, "My Beautiful Laundrette" is like a garden of delights blossoming out of an arid London slum. This astringent and comic British film takes a friskily original fix on upwardly mobile Pakistanis twisting the tail of the British lion for their own ends.

If the Pakistanis are going to be treated like second-class citizens in England, the ones in this wittily astute movie intend to respond in first-class style: i.e., making as much money as possible — even if it is on the shady side of the street.

That's also the decision reached by teen-aged Omar against the wishes of his widowed father (Roshan Seth), a once-distinguished journalist in India, whose disillusion and dependence on vodka have not watered down his belief in the value of education. When the industrious, ambitious Omar, a lad with a beguiling, innocent look, takes a job in the garage owned by his wealthy uncle Nasser, he is easily seduced into opting for (British) pound power over brain power.

Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey), a plumb, sentimental, self-indulgent gent with a British mistress and suspicious Pakistani wife, treats Omar like a son. Nasser's sexy, restless daughter, Tania, views him as a possible way out of her restrictive family circle.

Before long, Omar persuades his uncle to let him manage a run-down laundrette and he begins running shady errands for Nasser's flashy relative, Salim, an art collector whose purchases are financed by drug running, property rackets and porn videos.

When Omar (Gordon Warnecke) has an encounter with an old school chum, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), now hanging out with a gang of white racist punks, he persuades Johnny to join him in refurbishing the laundrette into a wash-and-dry dreamland complete with neon lights, an aquarium, video games and Muzak.They not only have a business to hold them together, but a puppyish homosexual attachment, which is intermittently threatened in one way or another by Tania, a cool kid with an eye for the main chance.

All these relationships have been developed with surpassing acumen and richness by Hanif Kureishi, a controversial young playwright with a Pakistani father and an English mother. Kureishi not only handles the characterizations with great skill, but he also weaves a superb tapestry of the racial and class conflicts between the determined Pakistanis and the unemployed white toughs who react to the "Paki's" good fortune with a mug's violence.

These class differences also play a part in the confrontation between Tania and Nasser's mistress, Rachel, beautifully portrayed by Shirley Anne Field, with warmth and understanding about Tania's hostility and a sadly dignified attempt to hold onto Nasser, the one good thing in her life.

Director Stephen Frears, who demonstrated a faculty for achieving suspense in the existential thriller "The Hit" here shows that he can meet the demands of a much more complex script with equal ease and with a visual sense about the seedy London milieu that's every bit as keen and fresh as his eye for the rolling landscapes of Spain in that earlier movie.

He has elicited marvelous performances from the entire cast, particularly Jaffrey ("The Chess Players" and "A Passage to India") and Seth (Nehru in "Gandhi") Daniel Day-Lewis gives a sharp portrayal of Johnny, struggling hopelessly to find a way out of the petty thefts and Paki-bashing of his gang.

It's an unvarnished revelation of a way of life - and a lesson in how to make movies that say something in the most entertaining way possible.

San Francisco Chronicle April 4, 1986

 

 

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