Laundromat: Star Meryl Streep, Director Soderbergh on their Timely and Serious Black Comedy

Laundromat is the story of “a terrible joke that’s being played on all of us,” Meryl Streep, the film’s star, said Sunday in a press conference.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the Netflix movie takes a black comedy look at the investigation into the Panama Papers, a trove of documents that were leaked to journalists in 2016. The secret papers 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 unexpected and uncomfortable questions.

Though the approach is humorous, the subject matter is serious, both Soderbergh and Streep said 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 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. This movie is fun, it’s funny, but it’s really, really important.”

Inspired by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove

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 Oscar winner 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’s character has powerful personal reasons to mount a crusade. “Grief is a great motivator,” the three-time Oscar-winning actress said. “The parents of the children shot at Parkland High School, the parents of the children shot at Newtown, Connecticut, 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 was recently 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?” 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.”