Review: The Laundromat
If anyone can squeeze some enthusiasm out of this bleak year for film, it has to be the pairing director Steven Soderbergh has brought us with his latest film, The Laundromat. A stacked cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Wright and David Schwimmer is bound to be at least an enjoyable farce as we get to see some great actors pool their resources in what should have been a very fun affair. But The Laundromat trips over at the first hurdle, and from there it becomes a bleak and underwhelming affair. A truly heart-breaking experience that highlights nothing is sacred in a year of bad movies.
Following the lead-up and brief fallout of the Panama Papers reveal, The Laundromat dabbles in contrite political controversy, but not enough for it to overtake its bloated rendition of Adam McKay’s The Big Short. The jarring fourth wall breaks look to copy that of McKay’s Oscar winning movie, but The Laundromat doesn’t have the brainpower behind its writing to make such a transition work. We jump between short snippets of story, all pooled together under the simple premise that their money is under threat. We either spend too few a moment with the characters (David Schwimmer disappears after about twenty minutes) or far too long with them (Oldman and Banderas are our on-screen narrators; their presence becomes jarring at best).
From such a strong cast, you could at least expect some enjoyable performances; it’s just unfortunate that the majority of decent performances are hidden away. Meryl Streep leads us for most of the movie in an underwhelming portrayal of Ellen Martin, a retiree who after losing her husband believes there’s something fishy about how little money she receives from his life insurance. With that set in stone, we spiral through a group of stories split up by placards noting our chapters. I hate placard chapter settings, it’s one of the main reasons I couldn’t quite get into The Sting. But The Sting had the benefit of being a good movie overall, The Laundromat does not.
None of the performances within really inspire much interest. In part, this is due to a lacking screen time for just about everyone involved, for others it just comes down to how little they provide in the way of uniqueness. Streep and Oldman suffer greatly from this, and it may just be due to them not having much to do. Oldman in particular gives us a strange German accent that sounds like he’s strained his Winston Churchill impression too much. It’s nice to see his post-Oscar win career hasn’t sank to the bottom of the ocean with last years Hunter Killer. Why Oscar winning actors are forced into films about submarines I will never know. Oldman, Colin Firth, Adrien Brody, even Liam Neeson did a handful of them. The strangest sub-genre in history is submarine oriented pieces that star Oscar winners.
Soderbergh’s insistence on innovation with the use of an iPhone as his only source of camera footage makes the film a shaky ordeal. I’d go as far as to say some parts of the film look uncomfortable to look at, with scenes that should’ve been unmoving stills becoming noticeably shakier as they go on. Oldman gives us a great scene, or so I would hope given that the camera following him is so wright with shakes and nerves that it can’t stop bobbing around in a sickening fashion.
The Laundromat looks nice, it is lit well and has all the makings of something that could win awards. Its presentation is well rounded, however its story is limited in scope and perspective by a group of actors that don’t bring anything interesting to the table. They require no introduction as to who they are, we will all recognise them beyond this film for accomplished pieces of work. But The Laundromat is something that will stain all of their filmographies as a mediocre, grisly piece of work. It excels in failure, a film that should’ve been something so much more provides us barely anything noteworthy at all.