My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Love and the pains of prejudice are just two of the themes pumping through My Beautiful Laundrette’s veins, ensuring that this affecting, intimate portrait of inner city ’80s life is as lively as it is absorbing.

Young Pakistani Omar (Gordon Warnecke) lives in London with his alcoholic father. Given a job by his uncle at a rundown local laundrette, Omar seizes it as a canny business opportunity. Amid pressures to attend college and get married, Omar bumps into old acquaintance Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) one night, and the seeds of an old relationship sprout anew.

Laundrette’s biggest surprise (and risk) has long since become common knowledge – that of the daring romance between Omar (affectionately and comically known as ‘Omo’) and reformed white thug Johnny. What’s most admirable about Laundrette’s handling of ‘gayness’, though, is that it refuses to portray Omo and Johnny’s relationship as any different from any other fledgling romance. Tellingly, Omo and Johnny’s is the most put-together pair-up in the entire film.

Where most contemporary ‘gay’ films root their plotlines in the traumas of being gay, Laundrette keeps it low-key and genuinely touching, deliberately skirting the obvious ‘issues’ that a gay romance might invite. Day-Lewis in particular is on top form, deepening his thuggish bad boy into an affectionate, well-meaning squatter earnestly seeking atonement for his past misdeeds.

There’s more going on in Laundrette than gayness alone. Though it’s clearly a product of the ‘80s, the London it presents isn’t all that different from the London of today. Cleverly pictured by director Stephen Frears as a stifled hodgepodge of urban development gone mad, in which people live literally on top of one another (often in the least aesthetically pleasing of surrounds), it’s the perfect breeding ground for our busy story.

Training its eye on numerous plot strands involving adultery, family pressures and racism, Laundrette is never drowned by its subject matter, retaining a warm sense of humour that often goes hand-in-hand with gratifyingly gritty realism. It remains a beautiful snapshot of troubled times, bringing with it the hope that good things really do happen to good people. 4/5

Celluloid Life: Blood, There Will Be

So the new year has been insanely busy, with screenings here and bunged up noses there. Alas something had to fall by the wayside, and after a prosperous beginning it was the blog what hit the gutter (poor blog, give it a kiss to make it feel better!) Well, with Mondays slow, it’s time to post my very first ‘Celluloid Life’ – aka a meandering little splurge about a movie I’ve recently (as in the pojector still hasn’t cooled) seen. Enjoy, and feel free to comment (though I may hunt you down if I don’t like what you have to say. Of course I jest. Or do I?).

Critics have drooled, buzz has gained momentum, and already awards have been hurled with the speed of a Millennium Falcon in hyperdrive. Why? One man. Yes, all eyes are on Method Man™ Daniel Day Lewis in his latest ‘out there’ character conjuration. But is it all movie propaganda guff? Well… oui and non. In a film that lasts over 150 mins (that’s a bum-deadening two and a half hours, kids), Day Lewis is a force of nature upon which everything hinges. Nary a minute passes without his oil mongerer filling the screen. Imposing and steadfast as a mountain, driven, with gravelly tones that promise with one hand while taking away with the other, it’s a dream role that never falters despite the fact that we don’t actually know anything about the character. Zippily charting the rise of the oil industry from the 1890s to 1927, it pits Lewis’s capitalist merchant Daniel against devout Christian Eli (Paul Dano). And that’s about it. Spare storytelling reigns supreme, with director Paul Thomas Anderson evoking a fittingly bleak ambience, and the opening dialogue-less fifteen minutes distinguish this as a film with ambition and restraint. But in the end it’s a mixed bag that entirely depends on your involvement in the character of Daniel. See it for Lewis: the praise (after all) is entirely well-placed. A