My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette ★★★★½

The rare film that's somehow become even more fresh and invigorating with age. A comedic, slice-of-life glance into South London's Anglo-Pakistani community; a tender romance that just happens to be between two young men; a piercing sociological inquiry (remarkably anticipating the fiction of Zadie Smith in this regard) into the ways that seemingly irreconcilably different communities come to navigate inhabiting shared and dynamic urban spaces; a rollicking family drama; a blistering portrait of the economic indignities of life under Thatcherism. That the film is all of these things, but never just one of them, and never any of them in any grandstanding or obvious way, is its own kind of small miracle. Films like this, filled with such compassion for their characters, and unwilling to make any of them truly good or bad, are all too rare in today's film landscape. For instance, the film's protagonist Omar follows his uncle down a path toward gleeful corruption, if not unrepentant amorality, but this is never cause for despair or hand-wringing; indeed, the film's larger social macrocosm implicitly explains why Omar does what he does, and even goes largely to making it understandable. And in any event, Frears and Kureishi never make a point of villainizing Omar for his actions. Or the exquisite scene during the laundrette's grand opening (the entire sequence is a remarkable set-piece of a diverse and heterogeneous community in action as a unified entity) between Omar's cousin, Tania, and Rachel, his uncle's mistress. No one wins their tense stand-off, and no one loses either - the film has the generosity of spirit to let each of them make her point and both are understood without cancelling one another out. A small moment containing the film's entire teeming worldview in miniature.

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