When discussing some of the most influential LGBT films, Stephen Frears' 1985 modern classic My Beautiful Laundrette usually is one of the most talked about, because it doesn't just address the unforunate issues of homophobia, but also the brutal, sometimes tragic aspects of racism, social status, and cultural differences. One of the reasons why it remains such an influential film is because it showcases a same-sex relationship that is both tender and unusual. It is no wonder why this is considered, along side The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, one of his very best cinematic creations.
The story centers on Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a bright-eyed and ambitious Pakistani teenager, who is living with his alcoholic and self-pitying father in a beat-up apartment complex in London. He wants to make somthing of himself, and the way he decides to that is to open up a laundromat, especially to make his family proud. During his trials and tribulations of making that dream happen, he runs into his childhood friend Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis, in a remarkable breakthrough role) who offers to help. While Omar's laudromat business becomes a huge success, he and Johnny become instant lovers, despite the discrimination during the Margaret Thatcher era that took place in mid 1980s. Just when they think that everything is working out for the better, their cultural backgrounds and the brutal chaos of society threaten to tear them apart.
My Beautiful Laundrette always stands out more than other LGBT films because it dared to depict a certain time and place where the rich became richer, and the poor became poorer. There was a lot of uncertainity during the 1980s in terms of sex, class, and cultural confusion. In this case, the film successfully translates that, and brings a grim resonance to real-time London. There is also the love story, which works so well because both Warnecke and Day-Lewis have such amazing chemistry; their love feels real, but it is also complicated because of their cultural status. There is a wonderfully comic scene where both Omar and Johnny have sex in the backroom of the new laundromat, where people are waiting outside to come in for the first time. It is risky, daring, but also very sweet. It isn't as explicit, nor salacious as a viewer might think it is.
Another aspect is the amazing cast that Frears has assembled, besides Warnecke and Day-Lewis, who give incredible performances, but Roshan Seth, who plays Omar's aging father. There is also the great Shirley Anne Field (of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) with an affecting portrayal of Omar's uncle's mistress who feels that the relationship between her and the uncle has run its course. Saeed Jaffrey plays Omar's uncle Nasser, with a touch of mischevious energy, and Rita Wolf steals every scene she's in as Tania, the rebellious daughter of Nasser who has her own ideas about tradition and happiness, and whom Nasser is trying to marry out to Omar, in an effort to financially help out the family
The Criterion edition has some rather slim supplements, but they manage to give viewers a great look into how the film was made, and how much of an impact it continues to have. They consist of a new interview between director Frears and producer Colin MacCabe. They go into great detail discussing the film's subject matter, the casting, budget, and its overall place in film history. There are also equally informative interviews with screenwriter Hamif Kureishi, producers Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe, and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton as they make their own savvy reflections about making the film. Rounding out the supplements is the film's theatrical trailer, and a wonderful new essay by critic Graham Fuller.
Overall, My Beautiful Laundrette is certainly a sometimes brutal, but beautifully made film that continues to stand the test of time.