[box cover]

My Beautiful Laundrette

Thanks to director Stephen Frears' unvarnished, lovingly honest treatment of everyday gay romance and modern racial relations, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) has earned a reputation as a groundbreaking piece of artistic cinema. That may be true, but without denying the film's historical and thematic significance, something about it doesn't quite click two decades later. Perhaps it's star Gordon Warnecke's unsettlingly unpredictable portrayal of Omar, an ambitious young Pakistani living in gritty 1980s South London. Or the abrupt dialogue and sometimes-choppy scene transitions, which make the film's plot and character relationships difficult to follow at times. (Or maybe it's just co-star Daniel Day Lewis's Boy George-ish bleached hair and ever-present newsboy cap...) Whatever "it" is, it proves to be a barrier to being wholly absorbed in the film's world, which is unfortunate, since it looks like a fascinating place. Moving from the shabby flat Omar shares with his alcoholic father (Roshan Seth) to the beautiful home of Omar's successful (and shady) Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) to the rundown laundrette Nasser puts in Omar's care, My Beautiful Laundrette captures a London that offers as many opportunities as it does dead-ends — which you get depends on how hard you're willing to work and how many rules you're willing to bend. Omar quickly discovers that he's happy to do whatever it takes to get ahead, especially if his boyhood friend/current lover Johnny (Day-Lewis) is by his side. Together, the two young men spiff up Nasser's laundrette, breaking up their long hours and hard work with affectionate moments and stolen kisses. Johnny's past as a Paki-bashing, rabble-rousing tough threatens to get in the way of their success — as do Omar's tricky relationships with Nasser and Nasser's tightly wound right-hand man Salim (Derrick Branche) — but the two are willing to go the distance as long as they've got each other. True to form, Day-Lewis gives the best performance in the film; his accent is flawless, and we can practically see Johnny's regrets and his hopes for the future battling it out on Day-Lewis' craggy face. Warnecke, meanwhile, forges through most of the film with a dopey grin plastered to his face — the challenges Omar faces as a gay, business-savy Pakistani man in a city full of prejudiced punks are monumental, but Warnecke only seems to realize that intermittently, which makes Omar's journey much less compelling than it could have been. MGM's DVD edition of My Beautiful Laundrette offers a decent anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) — the source-print looks grainy and a bit washed-out in spots, but that seems to have been Frears' intention — and monaural English audio (English, Spanish, and French subtitles also are available). Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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