“The Laundromat” is the story of a terrible joke “that’s being played on all of us,” Meryl Streep, one of the film’s stars, said Sunday.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the Netflix movie takes a blackly comic look at the investigation into the Panama Papers, a trove of documents that were leaked to journalists in 2016 and that revealed global schemes set up by a Panamanian law firm to help companies and rich clients around the world avoid billions of dollars in taxes. Streep plays a middle-class woman who is cheated of money she’s owed and starts asking uncomfortable questions.
Although the approach is humorous in many ways, the subject matter is deadly serious, both Soderbergh and Streep said Sunday in Venice, where the Netflix film is having its world premiere. “This is an entertaining, flash, funny way of telling a very, very dark, black-hearted joke, a joke that’s being played on all of us,” Streep said.
She added that the crimes revealed in the Panama Papers were not victimless, citing the example of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who was using the Panama Papers to investigate corruption when she was killed by a car bomb in 2017. “Some people died for it,” Streep said. “This movie is fun, it’s funny, but it’s really, really important.”
Soderbergh cited “Dr. Strangelove,” which took on the nuclear arms race in a comedic way, as an inspiration for “The Laundromat.”
“We decided that a dark comedy would have the best possible chance of remaining in the minds of the viewers and also gave us the opportunity to use the complexity of these kind of financial activities almost as a joke, almost as a setup for a punchline,” Soderbergh said. “Otherwise…[viewers] would feel as if they were being educated as opposed to entertained.”
Besides Streep, the film stars Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as the founders of the law firm at the center of the story. Oldman said that “The Laundromat” was well-served by being a Netflix title, because the streaming giant’s global footprint would help the film and its underlying message reach a worldwide audience. “If you’ve got something this serious, you want to get that out to as many people” as possible, said Oldman, who won the best actor Oscar last year for “Darkest Hour.”
Streep said that her character has powerful personal reasons to mount a crusade. “Grief is a great motivator,” the multiple-Oscar-winning actress said. “The parents of the children shot at Parkland High School, the parents of the children shot at Newtown, Conn., those people don’t stop; they don’t stop in trying to change the world. If it’s personal, you don’t stop, and we rely on those people, when it really counts, to save us all.”
Streep, who has recently been seen in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” said that the size of the screen no longer matters in terms of the work she chooses.
“We’ll all be appearing on screens right here soon, right?” she said, looking down at her watch. “The size doesn’t even compute anymore. I mean, I’d rather see it big, but the kids these days, they don’t care.”
“The Laundromat” is an adaptation of Jake Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World.” Following Saturday’s premiere on the Lido, it heads to Toronto and will be released theatrically before being put on Netflix’s platform.