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.