Trying to earn a living, Nasser (Jaffrey) is given the reins to his Uncle's laundrette in South London. He falls in love with a white outsider, Johnny (Day-Lewis), and the pair of them quickly break every cross-cultural taboo in their hideout, the back room of the laundrette.
Sweepingly compared with its contemporary Letter to Brezhnev, Laundrette indeed revolves around a tale of young cross-cultural love. But whereas the sleazy, raucous bulk of Brezhnev worked as a foil for eventual true love, here Frears paints a more somber picture, and a more complex one. Working class life offers few elevations of laughter here in south London, where young Nasser scrapes an existence from his Uncles laundry business.
An open examination of British racism and an Asian youth making a living against the odds, the film should work as a fairly formulaic boy-meets-boy romance. But the emotional baggage (the dirty laundry apologies) cant be ignored and so, unlike many forbidden romance movies, My Beautiful Laundrette contains none of the uplifting buzz an audience might expect from the two sweethearts (the comedy comes from the peripheral oddballs). Rebellion is something implicit in their love, and is reluctantly accepted rather than shouted from the hilltops. Laundrette is utterly subdued in its admission of inconvenient love. Melancholia seeps and mingles through the film like the scent of cigarettes and washing powder in the boys claustrophobic den (the back room of the laundrette, where, through the dramatic device of a one-way mirror, they can keep an eye on the customers or any dogma-wielding relatives who might interrupt their fun). Superbly acted by Day-Lewis and Jaffrey, skillfully directed, My Beautiful Laundrette is timely, provocative and unique.
At times puzzling due to the diverse panorama of subject matter, the film nevertheless corners touchy issues more than it flinches them.