My Beautiful Laundrette [1985]

My Beautiful Laundrette, Stephen Frears's low-budget realization of Hanif Kureishi's subversively critical play, captures the contradictions of mid-'80s Thatcherism in a way that's as fresh today as when it was new. Wheeler-dealer Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) sums it up when he says, "In this damn country, which we hate and love, you can get anything you want." He sets up his nephew Omar (Gordon Warnecke) with a rundown laundrette and the instruction to make it a success, which Omar temporarily does, with the help of his childhood friend Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). When the film was first released, it was the gay content that dominated the conversation, whereas now it seems a sensitive and multifaceted summation of its decade, exploring social, ethnic, and sexual issues and contradictions. Bringing together two such different characters as Omar--Asian, ambitious, for whom success is defined by wealth--and former childhood friend Johnny--white trash, ex-National Front--was inspired. Watching their friendship develop into love, and the ensuing bitterness and misunderstanding that they suffer from friends and family, is very poignant. All the lead roles are well taken, the contradictory character of Nasser in particular. By turns, funny, touching and anger-inducing, My Beautiful Laundrette wears its age lightly and its era proudly. --Harriet Smith

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