June 20, 2011

Queer Review: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

My Beautiful Laundrette
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Hanif Kureishi
Cast: Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke, Derrick Branche, Rita Wolf

Regarded as a gay classic by many critics, My Beautiful Laundrette was one of the few pro-gay films to come out of the 80's. Unfortunately, it is not one of the more impressive efforts to come out of that decade. Mediocre acting and writing, along with an awful score, causes watching My Beautiful Laundrette to be about as much fun as actually doing laundry.

Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is being set up by his wealthy uncle, Nassar Ali (Saeed Jaffrey), to run a laundry mat in London. To do this, Omar enlists the help of an old fling Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). To finance the operation, the two steal drugs from Omar's other uncle, Hussein (Roshan Seth), who becomes angry upon finding out about the pair's duplicity. Further complications come from Omar being betrothed to Nassar's daughter Tania (Rita Wolf) a marriage he does not want as he is really in love with Johnny.

The Queering
I really, really wanted to like My Beautiful Laundrette. In addition to presenting a gay romance, it also attempts to address issues regarding classism and racism in Thatcher era London and features a rare example of a non-white LGBTQIA character. Plus, as a nice bonus, neither of the queer characters is killed off at the end. The thing is, in order to succeed, any story will need compelling characters and some kind of interesting conflict for them to overcome. Unfortunately, My Beautiful Laundrette has neither.

The ostensible hero of the story, Omar, is described as brilliant by nearly every other character yet comes across as a moron. It does not help matters either that he is played without a hint of charisma by Gordon Warnecke. Daniel Day-Lewis is so stiff, that he seems simply aloof. Worse, there is no chemistry between these two. The only actors showing any kind of chutzpah, are Saeed Jaffrey, as the sleezy uncle, and Rita Wolf playing his bored (and therefore extremely horny) daughter.

The main conflicts of the story tend veer frequently towards the lame and are always resolved too easily. The gay relationship is handled is one such example. Since nobody discovers or challenges Omar and Johnny's relationship the fact that the two are engaging in what is essentially a forbidden love (for the time and setting) becomes completely pointless. Without any major suffering or conflict for the characters to go through, there is little reason for the audience to root for them. It's like watching a baseball team score a home-run every inning while the pitcher just gently lobs the baseball over the plate.

On the technical side, the score for My Beautiful Laundrette has to be among the worst I have ever heard from a mainstream movie. There are also enough instances of choppy editing to make me wonder of the editor was forced to work in a dryer on spin cycle.

For those with any interest in the history of queer cinema, My Beautiful Laundrette is worth seeking out as there are worse offerings out there. However, there is too little of interest here for me to be recommending this to anyone else.

The Rating


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