The Look of Love (2013)
Critic Consensus: While it may not add up to the definitive Paul Raymond biopic -- or take full advantage of Steve Coogan's many gifts -- The Look of Love still proves an entertainingly old-fashioned look at the Swinging London of the 1960s.
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as Paul Raymond
as Jean Raymond
as Debbie Raymond
as Fiona Raymond
as Vicar Edwyn Young
as Jonathan Hodge
as Tony Power
as Carl Snitcher
as Howard Raymond
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Critic Reviews for The Look of Love
Groovy period soundtrack aside, "The Look of Love" has almost nothing to say of any interest, importance or humor.
Double-billing comic and tragic tones, the biopic "The Look of Love" follows a father and a daughter over three decades in London's swinging Soho.
Director Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh provide the essential outline of Raymond's story, but they're a little too preoccupied with its glitzy aspects.
A puzzlingly misconceived biopic: a tasteful, subdued movie about a man who was as tasteless and unsubdued as they come.
Audience Reviews for The Look of Love
When I reviewed Trishna around this time last year, I remarked upon the speed at which Michael Winterbottom works, commenting that he "has better films in him, and makes them quick enough to put this disappointment swiftly behind him." The downside, however, to this pace and efficiency is that he often neglects to go into enough detail about his chosen subject matter. What was a large problem with Trishna is now an even larger one with The Look of Love, which spends more time evading its central character than it does examining him.
I've long complained that biopics which attempt a grand sweep of a person's life almost always come up short. They don't all fail for the same reasons: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers structures its story in a way more suited for television; Gandhi is so overly respectful that it never lets us emotionally connect to the main character; and Shine starts off very well but eventually descends into melodrama. In each case the films are guilty of biting off more than they can chew, hobbled by a surplus of events which leaves them as a pretty, wide horizon rather than a deep, rewarding dive.
The Look of Love is another biopic which suffers from this problem. It attempts to chronicle the life of publisher and club owner Paul Raymond from his humble beginnings on the late-1950s variety circuit to the death of his daughter Debbie in 1992. Covering thirty years of a person's life is a tall order regardless of the person in question, but Winterbottom never seems entirely sure of what he is interested in, or more to the point why he is interested in it.
Films with a sexual subject matter have to be very clear about their intentions towards their audience. Many of the most celebrated films in this vein, such as Boogie Nights, Shame and Eyes Wide Shut, work very hard to turn their audience off, either by showing them some unrelenting underbelly to all the glamour ,or by telling their story in such a clinical manner that titillation becomes impossible. Having negated our most shallow and bestial response, they can then explore ideas surrounding sex and sexuality on a deeper level, whether the objectification of the human body, the destructive power of sex addiction, or the dangers of jealousy.
It is equally possible to make a film which will arouse an audience in more ways than one, provided that said arousal is supported by a discussion of the issues that surround it. One can show a raunchy sex scene and then examine the consequences of that scene without needing to shout down its audience's desires. Ultimately, The Look of Love's approach is a reflection of the clichéd British attitude towards sex. Rather than committing either way, it sits around looking rather awkward and embarrassed, content to have the nudity but averting its gaze whenever difficult questions are asked.
What results from this approach is a film with a great deal of froth and flesh but no depth to it whatsoever. You could call it gratuitous, were it not so frustrating and un-engaging that it couldn't possibly offend anyone even vaguely familiar with the human body. The film seems only interested in capturing the period look and the levels of luxury that Raymond's life reached, rather than asking all the interesting questions about what underpins such a lifestyle. It doesn't have to be scathingly critical in doing so - we just need a sense that there is a point to all this.
Part of the problem with The Look of Love is that it is overly sympathetic towards its central character. Steve Coogan is a far more talented actor than many people give him credit for, and its collaborations with Winterbottom bear that out, whether it's his breathtaking Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People or the self-reflexive, postmodern work of The Trip or A Cock and Bull Story. This performance, however, finds both parties leaning heavily on Alan Partridge, painting Paul Raymond as a lovable figure regardless of how seedy he becomes.
It's all very well gives us a central character who makes a living out of sex and doesn't come across as a complete sleazeball. But it becomes a problem when the film is so obsessed with making us like him that it dodges all the darker parts of the industry in which he engages. A typical example comes when a journalist asks Raymond if his magazine Men Only demeans women; Raymond pauses for a few seconds, and then says: "No."
The film makes no real attempt to engage with any of the questions about the morality of what Raymond was doing, or the legal grey areas that surrounded his career; in the latter regard it makes even Mrs. Henderson Presents look gritty and determined. Court cases, divorces, press controversies and long-lost sons are all treated as random things that happen, which come and go like issues of his magazine. It's almost as though the film were being fast-forwarded, so you could follow the movement of a scene but not understand why what was happening was happening.
The film also fails, just as damningly, to justify the darker scenes that do happen later on, involving Debbie's drug problems and the guilt Raymond feels for what happened to her. Even with the clunky wraparound, with Raymond reminiscing about his life while watching video footage, these scenes come out of nowhere and are deeply manipulative. The worst of these involves Raymond doing Debbie a line of coke while she is giving birth to her first child. What could have been disturbing for all the right reasons just comes across as offensive and exploitative.
Without any real substance to speak of, all that remains of The Look of Love is its look. Winterbottom has clearly made an effort to properly recapture the look of Soho through the various time periods, and generally speaking he is successful. He is particularly adept at capturing the flimsy, trashy, tacky look of sex comedies and nude revues, which grew in popularity through the 1960s.
Unfortunately, the action is so insubstantial that it ends up being marked by the changing of costumes, which draws too much attention to them. The film is a very wiggy affair, with characters going through plenty of wigs, teeth and false beards which look opulent in places but very tacky in others. Much like Mr. Nice, Bernard Rose's biopic of drug dealer Howard Marks, it's an ultimately televisual affair, compounded by the appearances of established TV stars like Chris Addison, Matt Lucas and David Walliams.
The Look of Love is a frustratingly frothy affair which makes far too little from a potentially fascinating subject matter. While its attitude towards women or the sex industry is not overtly demeaning or offensive, its refusal to engage maturely with any of the issues surrounding said industry render the whole experience desperately inane. It is in the end as shallow and as empty as the club shows that it depicts, and a low point from a talented director who really can do so much better.
In 1992, burlesque and porn entrepreneur and very, very wealthy man Paul Raymond(Steve Coogan) mourns the death of his daughter Deborah(Imogen Poots). In thinking back, he returns to one of his earliest ideas which was to have a lion taming act in a cage with two topless women.(I didn't say it was a great idea...) When his wife Jean(Anna Friel) has to take over for one of the women who sensibly has second thoughts, she sues a newspaper over a dispute about how little she was wearing at the time. With that bid of notoriety to their name, it is only up, up and beyond for the Raymonds. What makes their marriage work is an arragement that Paul can have sex outside of marriage. However, the same cannot be applied to love which is what happens when Paul meets Amber(Tamsin Egerton), nee Julia, when she auditions for one of his productions.
As racy a movie as it is, "The Look of Love" is really not about sex nor is it concerned with drugs. Rather, it makes a very well-developed case for moderation in all things, as exemplified by the scenes at the sweet shop. For example, swingers do not make the best of parents. But as stimulating as it can be to review a recent history of erotica, two key performances do not hold up under scrutiny and with them go the movie. No matter the different hairstyles, Steve Coogan is still Steve Coogan doing impressions in a restaurant. And even more importantly, while Imogen Poots has done fine work elsewhere, here she does not have the requisite impact to be fully successful as the emotional core of the movie and the only character who tragically fails at reinvention.
When we first meet Paul Raymond (Coogan) in the late fifties, he and his wife Jean (Friel) are touring England with a gimmicky nude circus act. After a tabloid newspaper incorrectly states that Jean appears nude in these shows, Raymond wins a substantial libel settlement. He uses the winnings to open the Raymond Revue Bar, which quickly becomes the lead attraction of Soho, London's red light district. The film follows Raymond through the seventies and eighties as he builds an empire of sex clubs and porn magazines, focusing on his tumultuous relationship with both his model girlfriend Fiona Richmond (Egerton) and his drug-addled daughter Debbie (Poots).
The biopic film is a difficult genre, one which rarely produces satisfying results. The best biopics choose to focus on a particular moment or aspect of their subject's life. Tim Burton's 'Ed Wood' is a perfect example of a film which focuses on celebrating its subject's best years. Had Burton taken the usual biopic route, as Winterbottom does here, the second half of his film would have been a depressing tale of Wood's downward spiral into drug addiction. There's a strange level of begrudgery involved in most biopics, aimed, as they so often are, to appeal at the primitive jealousy we feel towards the rich and famous. These films take great delight in building up a successful figure, only to knock them down in the final act. Why choose to focus on a famous person's human flaws rather than the achievements which brought them such fame?
Winterbottom's film adopts this crude tactic, all champagne popping montages in the first half, drug-addled paranoia and self-destruction in the second. We've seen this a million times before, with far more interesting subjects. Raymond's character is pretty unremarkable and Coogan does him no favors with his portrayal, indistinguishable from any other character the former comedian has played. The real star of the show is Poots, stealing every scene she appears in. By the end of 2013, this girl's name will be on everyone's lips. Friel is also impressive, perfectly capturing the new-money crassness of her character.
Winterbottom has become the U.K's Stephen Soderbergh, churning out films at an incredible rate. He began his career with a series of interesting works but, like his U.S counterpart, he seems to be coasting on auto-pilot now. Maybe a Soderbergh-esque break is in order?
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