Friday, December 16, 2005

THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1984) - Stuart Rosenberg & MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985) - Stephen Frears

Why am I linking these two seemingly worlds-apart movies into one review? 1) Because I watched them both on the same day and 2) Because they are both gay-themed movies…it’s just that one of them doesn’t seem to know it.
  
I’ll start with the one in denial, The Pope of Greenwich Village, which when you think about it is a pretty good name for a movie in denial (think Catholic priest scandal). This one’s about two gumbas in Little Italy, Charlie (Mickey Rourke, stellar as always) and Paulie (Eric Roberts, uh…we’ll get to that in a second). We first meet them working at an Italian restaurant, Charlie's a maitre ‘d and Paulie a waiter.
 
Charlie’s the responsible one with a good head on his shoulders along with a big time alimony, a shitload of unpaid parking tickets on his ex-wife’s car, and a ballet dancer girlfriend (Darryl Hannah) who’s just announced that she is pregnant. Charlie is, well, the other one – he’s always working hair-brained schemes when he’s not worshipping Charlie or buying the jism of thoroughbred race horses in an attempt to cash in. What does Paulie have on his shoulders? Well, not much other than a hellacious white man’s afro.
 
So what are two out-of-work gumbas from the neighborhood to do? I mean, besides walk out the streets arm in arm (is this an Old World Italian thing, or a Chelsea thing?). Not to mention smacking each other around to the point where it develops a disturbing S&M undercurrent. Did I mention the horse jism? Well, they plan a heist of course. Along with middle aged safecracker, they’re going to grab the payroll of a small company, which ends up being a mafia stash about to be picked up by a undercover cop turned Federal witness. That's something old Paulie forgot to mention because: “I didn’t want to worry nobody.” As you can guess, this is no Rififi. In fact, the resultant heist may be the loudest, most clumbsy burglary ever put on film.
 
Pope is no Mean Streets either. Although Charlie and Paulie have a similar Charlie/Johnny Boy dynamic, their relationship is just…well…there’s no other word for it than “gay.” I understand the whole “buddies from the neighborhood” thing, but seriously, how many times can you keep forgiving a guy who constantly loses you jobs, gets you embroiled in stupid schemes, and endangers your life unless there’s something else going on there.
 
Case in point: There’s a scene after Paulie gets him thumb cut off (the infamous “Charlie! They took my thumb!” scene) where Rourke delicately feeds Roberts soup and strokes his hair. I mean, come on, the guy’s not dying…he just lost a thumb. I thought for sure it was going to turn into a make-out session. And honestly, it might as well have.
 
As for My Beautiful Laundrette, here we have a movie that has come out of the closet. It may not air its “dirty laundry” until halfway in with a reveal that its two male leads are lovers, but when it does it’s honest and tied into the story and, for audiences at the time, perhaps a little bit of shock.
 
The movie concerns a Pakistani immigrant in Britain, Omar, who takes a job working for his uncle washing cars, which soon turns to running a laundry mat. But this place is a definite fixer-upper, so he brings an old school buddy Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) into the business to help him spruce things up the biz along with his love life. However, another one of his sleazy uncles has caught on that Omar and Johnny are lovers and puts the squeeze on him to do other illegal work for him. There are also subplots concerning Omar’s father, a sort of bed-in socialist who doesn’t leave the house much, and an attractive but independent female cousin Omar’s uncle is trying to set him up with for a potential arranged marriage.
 
My Beautiful Laundrette is about the various cultural collisions among the working class in Britain, whether based on race, class, nationality, or sexual preference. As usual, Frears has a great feel for these subcultures the details within. What little plot there is doesn’t add up to that much, but then again this isn’t a thriller like Dirty Pretty Things or The Grifters. It’s more of a slice of life into a world most people don’t see and, in that sense, is entertaining enough.

1 comment:

Jordan Hoffman said...

Chawwwwlie! Dey took my Thummmmmmz! Chaaaawwwwwlie!

I'm no fan of either of these films. I think I prefer Pope just for Eric Roberts.