WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
A young Pakistani immigrant and his English boyfriend overcome all obstacles to launch a fabulous laundromat. Credits for My Beautiful Laundrette: [Dir: Stephen Frears/ Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Daniel Day-Lewis/ 97 min/ Comedy, Romance/ Pro-Capitalism, Individualism & Independence]
Enter the broken world of lower-class post-Industrial urban England, circa 1980. Unemployment is high. English hooligans hang around the streets, harassing passers-by and committing petty crimes. It is a place without hope or opportunity. After decades of living under enlightened central planning, the population has lost its mojo. What’s needed is some entrepreneurial spirit, and it comes, ironically, from a family of Pakistani immigrants who are determined to claw their way up, by any means necessary.
Omar, a young man from this family, is given a failing laundromat to operate, but he can’t manage it all by himself. He happens to run across Johnny, an English former schoolmate turned street criminal. Johnny is young and strong, just the type he needs to help with the laundromat, so Omar hires him, despite family objections. Yes, it is an unlikely union — the two are divided by race and social class — but market forces unleashed by Thatcher are starting to undermine the power of those divisions. That point comes up again, and even more explicitly, when Omar’s uncle, Nasser, evicts a penniless Pakistani from his apartment, and Johnny expresses surprise at the lack of racial loyalty. Nasser replies: “I’m a professional businessman, not a professional Pakistani. There is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.” Making money is the great unifier.
It’s also the great liberator, though only Omar seems to know it. Nasser sees in Omar someone whose life he can mold in the traditional fashion, even down to choosing Omar’s wife. Meanwhile, Omar’s father, a socialist intellectual, who lays in bed all day mulling over his past success as a writer, keeps pushing Omar to go to college and become a politician, journalist, or trade union leader. What neither of them realize is that Omar has his own plans, and that his success in business and increasing pride and self-confidence is freeing him to follow his own path. And the comedic cherry on the cake is that they haven’t a clue Omar is gay and in a relationship with, of all people…Johnny.
My only objection to this film is its rather cynical view of drug dealing and theft. In one scene Omar and Johnny sell some drugs to raise capital for the laundromat, and when someone related to the dealing demands money, they commit theft. It’s all treated as a one-time thing, I suppose to demonstrate their commitment to success, but it wasn’t necessary to the main plot and it undermines both their likability and the otherwise strong libertarian current running through events.
This film scored a rare 100% critics approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a quirky drama-comedy, with a gay romance sub-plot, probably not for everyone, but the people who like it, really like it.
External Reviews of My Beautiful Laundrette
“The spirit of free enterprise underpins the Hanif Kureishi-scripted, Stephen Frears-directed comedy…My Beautiful Laundrette was a teasing provocation to the mindset of the 70s old left.”
“My Beautiful Laundrette proposes a liberal-libertarian ‘politics of irony’ that has a relationship of flat rejection towards traditional forms of left politics grounded in class. Indeed, it might be argued that the main zone of its political engagement lies in the conflict between residual, welfarist traditions of liberalism and a libertarian politics which, licensed by Thatcherism, is seeking an exit from this increasingly defunct social democracy.”
–Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema
“What’s interesting about this film is that novelist/screenwriter Hanif Kureishi thought he was making a savage indictment of Thatcherite capitalism. But to me, the good characters in the movie — white and Pakistani, gay and straight — are the ones who work for a living, and the bad characters are clearly the whining socialist immigrant intellectual, who doesn’t like his son opening a small business, and the British thugs who try to intimidate the young Pakistani businessman. My favorite line: The enterprising brother of the layabout intellectual takes a young working-class Briton with him to evict some deadbeat tenants. The young Brit suggests that it’s surprising the Pakistani businessman would be evicting people of color. And the businessman says, ‘I’m a professional businessman, not a professional Pakistani. There is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.’ I think Kureishi thinks that’s a bad attitude. The joke’s on him.”
–David Boaz, Cato Institute