Saturday, October 19, 2019

Film review: "The Laundromat" (2019)

Netflix released The Laundromat to streaming yesterday, and I got the chance to watch it last night. There's been a bit of controversy around it, and as recently as a couple days ago, the two men on whom much of the film is based, filed a lawsuit to prevent Netflix from releasing the it. After its Venice premiere in late August, dozens of reviews have trickled in. I can't avoid taking notice of course, and it's difficult not to get a biased view of what to expect, considering it hasn't exactly received universal acclaim. In fact, it's been fairly poorly reviewed. I tried to put that aside and watch the movie with an open mind.

It's a pretty fast run, at only 96 minutes. The film opens with Ellen Martin (Meryl) on a trip with her husband in New York, where their boat capsizes, killing her husband and many others. The attempt to secure an insurance settlement leaves Ellen out of luck, as she learns that the company that was supposed to handle the restitution has essentially been able to weasel out of it...through convoluted, but not necessarily illegal, channels.

Ellen tries to track down the company, leading her as far as the Caribbean, but to no avail. Along the way, we're treated to behind the scenes explanations from Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, who portray the real-life lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca (of the infamous Panama Papers law firm Mossack Fonseca), describing step by step how the rich are basically screwing the little guy and getting away with it.

The film jumps around a lot, including side stories of wealthy African and Chinese families, conveying the nature of the often cruel and even murderous lengths individuals went to protect their astronomical assets. I tend to agree with many of the reviews that suggest that the film might not always know where it's going, or that it simply would be better to more closely follow Ellen's story. I realize I'm biased toward Meryl, but Ellen is really the one person we're meant to care about in the film, and I believe the film would be stronger with a little more length to follow Ellen's story a bit more closely.

Now to the controversy. There are a handful of viewers who accuse Streep of engaging in "brownface," in the film, in that she is attempting to portray a woman of color. Meryl plays a dual role, the second being a Panamanian office worker. On paper it totally sounds like "what the f*ck are you thinking?" but in the context of the film, there really isn't anything overtly offensive about it. I'm not going to get into a long-winded narrative about what constitutes blatant disregard for racial inequality, or insensitive depictions of minorities on screen. Suffice it to say, I, like the vast majority of folks who have posted online reviews, find little to no real issue with it.

Steven Soderbergh addressed the concern, which he anticipated, in a recent interview. I'm satisified with his explanation. I just wish I were a little more satisfied with the film. Since it's on Netflix, we're not concerned about box office, but I think if we're going to hope for any awards attention this upcoming season, it'll definitely be for Big Little Lies.


  1. I realized top directors did not trust Meryl enough, The Post would have been great if it was mainly about her, same as this movie. What a lost opportunity on this two movies with great directors.

  2. I have been waiting when you would post this topic to give my 2 cent.
    I simply dislike The Laundromat.easily Meryl's top 2 bad films of the decade (the other one being Ricki and The Flash).There's too much going on with the side stories not involving Meryl's Ellen to the point u wondered what is going on???also,dont make me start with why the hell Sharon Stone agreed to be in just 1 insignificant scene that can be played anyone.cameo??
    the good thing is we get to hear Meryl's latin accent.and the last scene where hispanic Meryl unveiled herself
    to be white Ellen and later to real life Meryl fucking Streep???like in what mind is that supposed to tickle..arghhh

    1. I'm guessing Sharon Stone agreed to the role after having worked with Soderbergh on Mosaic. I didn't dislike it as much as a lot of people did, but totally agree about the the side stories not always seeming to work with the full narrative.

    2. I read the link u posted with director's interview.i am curious how u interpreted the climax aka revelation scene. Ellen has been disguising as Elena(thus the almost similar name) all along after after disastrous attempts to quest her insurance money and was the John Doe(the whistleblower)?

    3. Yes, it's a similar name Ellen vs Elena, which I took to mean that Elena is sort of a personification or a mode/agency by which Ellen is able to actually see some results. With that in mind, the character of Elena is likely more a representation of how Ellen would think to disguise herself as a Panamanian (which makes sense for how much of a "disguise" it actually looked like versus the hair/makeup department doing a better job for the film). Yes, there's a scene where they're actually talking on the phone to each other, but that's part of the film twist, possibly to make it seem they're separate characters, when really Elena is a manifestation for Ellen to infiltrate and be the whistleblower.