My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette ★★★★½

A staple of queer cinema, My Beautiful Laundrette is funny, sweet, and honest without being bleak. What surprise me the most was the incisive commentary on racism and poverty in Thatcher-era England. The film seems concerned with a kind of intersectionality—with the the ways identities overlap and intersect, making connections to others exceedingly difficult. It is clear that director Stephen Frears was working with a very low budget at a time when camera technology didn’t make low budget shooting easy. I don’t know enough about cameras to say more, but you can tell the gritty feel is not just part of the working class aesthetic in part of the film. But Hanif Kureishi’s script is brilliant. It’s nuanced and not at all concerned with the salaciousness of the central relationship. It is concerned with the moments, big and small, that reveal the ways identity is wrapped up in layers of history, culture, experience, and interactions. Gordon Warnecke’s Omar and Daniel Day-Lewis’s Johnny are lived-in and believable. Their relationship sensitive and sensuous. It is easy to get wrapped up in the cogent critique of neo-liberal, colonial capitalism and forget the important commentary on gay male identity. But sexuality is at the heart of the critique of capitalism’s brutality, of colonial racism’s impact on immigrant identity. Perhaps we’re supposed to understand that Johnny’s past racism is wrapped up in his own internal struggle with his sexuality. If so, that struggle is no longer present when we meet Johnny. He builds a life with Omar. The strife in their relationship comes not from the closet but from Omar’s increased attachment to middle class capitalist success. While their relationship is secretive, it isn’t totally hidden. It is just beneath the surface for anyone who might want to see it. This is a powerful film and worth its place in the queer film canon.