A potential viewer gets a good idea of what's in store in Stephen Frears' transgressive interracial gay romance from the choice of the bluray cover image of Daniel Day Lewis licking Gordon Warnecke's ear. Criterion, the Rolls Royce of video reproduction companies, has offered another classic in "My Beautiful Laundrette". It's hard to believe that this social comedy critique of Margaret Thatcher's Britain is 36 years old and that it is so remarkably prescient about the class and racial tensions that affect the post Brexit country today. The royals never appear in "Laundrette" but the spirit of Thatcher's Britain is referred to in the dialogue of one of the main characters, a gleefully amoral Pakistani Briton businessman.
I love this film and its Criterion iteration for a variety of reasons , chief among which is its introduction of Daniel Day Lewis to worldwide cinema audiences. 1985 was his "annus mirabilis" or wonder year. With this film and with "A Room with a View", Day Lewis demonstrated his incredible range: from neo-fascist street punk ("Laundrette") to rigidly uptight aristocrat (View"). Four short years to his first (of a record three) Academy Awards for Best Actor in "My Left Foot" (1989).
"Laundrette" is by no means a one person show. Stephen Frears flawlessly directs a perfectly chosen cast in a deft and stinging script by Pakistani Briton Hanif Kureishi. Both director and writer bring their best stuff to this film. There are rich roles for veteran East Asian actors Saeed Jaffrey as the main character's materialistic uncle and Roshan Seth as the main character's disillusioned and alcoholic father. The younger generation of Pakistani Britons is well represented by Gordon Warnecke as Omar who is pulled in opposite directions by his uncle and father and is offered some sense of emotional/sexual/ business stability by his newly rediscovered childhood chum, Johnny (Mr. Day Lewis). There is a not quite romantic triangle involving Omar's very observant, very determined cousin whom the male elders of the family are trying to maneuver into marriage with Omar. Day Lewis's slyly suggestive smile when describing Omar's lovability to his cousin is an early indication of the complexity he would bring to future roles.
Day Lewis receives third billing after Jaffrey and Seth, but, make no mistake, this is Day Lewis's film. His character has the most developed arc: from drifting and alienated to committed. He expresses his love for Omar, whom he affectionately and playfully calls "Omo", double entendre intact. Johnny is in the process of becoming a worker, the indispensable manager of laundrettes and an interracial gay lover. He defies his class origins and becomes a bit of a pioneer, sexual and otherwise.
In 2021, "My Beautiful Laundrette" remains a relevant and witty film, satisfying in every component from acting to directing to writing.
The Criterion transfer, image and sound, is impeccable.