My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Two star-crossed lovers
Two star-crossed lovers. Well, not exactly.
My Beautiful Laundrette is sneaking into the Paramount's Summer Classic Film Series alongside a slew of films starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and before you gee-whiz at this decorated, taciturn actor's onscreen transformations into a ponderous Abe or an insane prospector who drinks up other people's milkshakes (rude), we advise you to take a moment to revel in his queer, punkish, tough, lower-class character named, what else (?), Johnny. Although he looks like Vanilla Ice's doppelganger, his affect is anything but as he slides from a bouncer-like stone-cold imperviousness to an impish-yet-wounded flirt in about a second flat. The romance between Johnny and upwardly mobile Omar (an equally stunning and subtle Gordon Warnecke), whose Uncle Nasser challenges him to flip a washateria into the black, is a complex coupling – one structurally informed by the tug-of-war quadrumvirate of class, race, nationality, and sexuality. But that sink-washing scene is hella cute, amirite? Such is the evidence of the talent of screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, who builds a narrative that never fully coheres to fit a particular generic mold; it's not really a coming-out story, nor a tragic love story, nor a screed on the politics of identity, although elements of all three dot the film. Presaging the more American-oriented New Queer Cinema, My Beautiful Laundrette does something its successors across the pond rarely do – catch the relationship between its two central characters mid-sentence. Greater, more palpable differences animate the relationship between Johnny and Omar; sexuality is the least interesting of them. And if a young Daniel Day-Lewis is the carrot at the end of the programming stick (or film blurb) that gets your butt in a seat at the Paramount for this film, so be it. We'll expect thank-you letters in the morning.
June 17-18, Paramount: Monday, 9:05pm; Tuesday, 7pm