Review: The Laundromat (2019)

The wigs were plentiful and obvious.

There are certain choices in life that are automatic no-brainers. Surefire decisions that you know are inherently great ideas. Wearing a leather jacket to class up any outfit you put on? Absolutely. Ordering in pizza instead of cooking for yourself? Don’t mind if I do. Forsaking all other comedies so you can watch Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) for the millionth time? Hell to the yes. So, when I made the choice to watch The Laundromat (2019), a crime drama based on true events that’s directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars the likes of Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, I assumed I was in pretty good hands. I’m sorry to say that I could not have been more wrong. The Laundromat fails on such a spectacular scale that it makes me question if I can ever trust another acclaimed director or cast again. Can I even count on pizza anymore?

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 9.44.43 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

“Based on actual secrets,” The Laundromat follows Ellen Martin, who after the death of her husband, traces a string of shady dealings back to one law firm responsible for a host of other illegal activities.

Much like when I reviewed the instantly forgettable Men in Black: International (2019) – which you can check out my review for here – I struggled to give you that brief synopsis because my God, was this a confusing mess of a movie. Before viewing I knew next to nothing about The Laundromat but even after sitting through the agonizingly slow and meticulously-detailed hour and a half, I’m none the wiser. The entire time I had no idea what was going and what’s worse, I truly didn’t care. The movie starts on a solid note, with Ellen reeling from the untimely death of her husband. Okay, we need to talk about this death for a second. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler because it literally happens only SEVEN minutes in and sets up the rest of the movie. Ellen and her husband Joe are taking a senior’s cruise of a lake in New York, surrounded by a boatload of fellow seniors, none of whom are wearing life jackets. The tiniest wave I’ve ever seen capsizes their boat, killing 21 people and putting into motion the rest of the movie.

Sigh…look.

I’m not a boat captain, sailor, or insurance agent, but shouldn’t a cruise for SENIORS be required to make them wear life jackets? Literally, if the captain had made them wear life jackets like EVERY other boat in the world does, 21 seniors would still be alive. It’s these kind of ridiculously glaring plot holes, as well as horrific storytelling which we’ll get into, that ruins The Laundromat and distract from the movie’s chief redeeming quality: Meryl Streep.

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 9.45.55 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

What can I say about Streep that I haven’t already said in my reviews for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), It’s Complicated (2009) and Julie & Julia (2009)? By the way, you can check out those reviews here, here and here. As expected, she’s marvelous. As Ellen, Streep plays the dowdiest of dowdy characters, a role I haven’t seen her perform in a while. She absolutely nails it, managing to tug at your heartstrings and really make you feel for her. You can resonate with the pain and grief she’s going through and as a testament to how convincing an actress Streep is, you genuinely want to see Ellen get justice for Joe’s death. Unfortunately, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns drag down the only storyline worth caring about with an unnecessarily convoluted and overall, dull, script.

The story of The Laundromat is told in a series of vignettes, short stories that have zero direct impact on any of the characters involved or, more importantly, Ellen, our protagonist. It’s bizarre. The whole movie is a series of long-winded character introductions and random overly-dramatic events that left me saying, “wait, how many characters am I expected to keep up with? When are we going to get back to Ellen?” Plot twist, we only check in with Ellen a handful of times. The only storyline worth caring about and the movie largely ignores it. The Laundromat tries to do the most and weave a tale of cleverly connected stories but the whole thing comes off as a muddled mess. Trying to follow this movie is a fool’s errand. I don’t mind complicated movies with multiple plot lines but this movie is a chore to watch. What’s worse is that it isn’t nearly enjoyable or engaging enough to recommend anyone sit through. It’s kind of like Love Actually (2003) if Love Actually had a cast absent of charisma and were set in a bank.

Speaking of, I realize this is a movie based on financial crimes and whatnot, but the banking jargon in this movie was far too much. Either it was so dense that that I was in danger of zoning out multiple times, or so dumbed down that it was like being taught about credit by Elmo. In addition to playing Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonesca, two lawyers linked to the crimes, Oldman and Banderas serve as narrators and walk us through these lessons. The second time the movie cut back to them I audibly groaned at the pretentious and unhelpful way they had to explain what was going on in the movie. It believes itself to be much smarter than it actually is. More than anything, the way The Laundromat is shot, with its odd editing, dream sequence fakeouts, and high school-level lessons, reminded me of Vice (2018). You can check out my review here, but long story short I found that movie to be unfathomably annoying.

The Laundromat is not a badly made movie or horribly acted by any means, but it’s confused about what it’s trying to accomplish. It”s sleek and stylish but without a coherent or interesting story, the whole thing is a waste. This movie contains scenes of murder, adultery, bribery and other crimes and I was still thoroughly uninterested. Never have I witnessed a movie do so much while making zero progress or semblance of a story. A half hour in and the story was still being set up! If the true events of this movie hadn’t been dramatized and instead been made into a documentary, The Laundromat would have been a smashing success.

Extraordinarily disappointing considering the talent involved, I regret watching this movie. There were a handful of Netflix original horror movies I could have reviewed but damn it, my love for Meryl Streep was just too strong. Here’s hoping that her next movie, Little Women (2019), is better than The Laundromat. Or at least, doesn’t sound like someone wrote an entire movie based off the technical parts of a crime procedural.

Will you see The Laundromat?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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