"The look of love is long and boring, and written very long ago; it's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes, and things we're all too young to know." I could have referenced The Monotones' "Book of Love", and you'd figure that I would, considering that the one I just ran with came out in 1999, a couple of years after the point where I lost most of my respect for the music industry, but man, it's still a good song with integrity, probably because it had Peter Gabriel (Oh yes, Gabriel didn't abandon any smidge of artistic integrity when he abandoned progressive rock). Granted, there are, like, a million songs actually titled "Look of Love" that I could have referenced, but I still find my final quote most fitting, because I can't help but think of that song plugged into the tear-jerking series-oh, I mean "season 8" finale of "Scrubs" (Forget you, ABC; CBS should have kept that license), which was such a big comedy which ultimately came down to some powerful drama, just like how comedian Steve Coogan, with this film, is going dramatic on us... to an extent. I reckon after "The People vs. Larry Flynt", it's safe to say that a biopic about an adult magazine publisher shouldn't be taken too seriously, no matter how much they tout the project as a "drama", at least when it comes to our much less sophisticated, more sensitive American tastes. You've got to remember that this film is British, and I mean really, really, really British, and to them, Michael Winterbottom's relative claim-to-fame, "9 Songs" was probably the best comedy of 2004. Shoot, I didn't see it, so it very well could have been, though I do know enough to say that it is by no means good old-fashioned fun for the whole family to enjoy... very, very quietly. After that film, of course Winterbottom is perfect to direct a film about a smut peddler, and yet, that's not to say that this film is even remotely perfect, as it has its share of problems, not unlike Paul Raymond himself.
Let me start by saying that this film, while not all that demanding with its exposition as an "extensive" biopic, is seriously underdeveloped, offering only so much exposition to get you associated with the leads, who are conceptually colorful characters, but often simply come off as questionable sleazeballs, due to limitations in flesh-out. Okay, now, the characters aren't that distancing, or at least not as distancing as they could have been, - thanks to highlights in writing and acting - yet in a lot of ways they remain too undercooked for their own, and wouldn't get to that point if the film wasn't eager to sum up the life and times of Mr. Paul Raymond, hurrying in a way that not only further hurts expository wealth, but gets to be kind of repetitious before too long. As surely as the characters stand to be more repelling, storytelling stands to be more slam-banged, but the film, covering a lifetime within a 101-minute window, loses focus at times, whether when it's dragging along, or struggling with its juggling of the layers of this narrative, whose transitions are sometimes too swift to be smooth. Of course, focal unevenness is not only detrimental here, for although it can't be all that easy to tastefully interpret the story of an intelligent, but sleazy man who is best known for his impact on erotic entertainment, even when you take this drama for what it is, it still gets confused with its layering, undercutting dramatic kick by jarring in its leaps between lively fluffiness and, well, "relative" seriousness, but at least keeping consistent in familiarity. With all of the underdevelopment and unevenness, the flaw that is likely to stick out the most is simply conventionalism, as this is yet another mid-profile biopic of its type, having little, if anything new to offer as a weapon against intrigue limitations, which are indeed there, because even though Paul Raymond's story is interesting, he's just not quite as interesting as the focuses in certain other films which are too much like this one. I'm not saying that there's a whole lot potential here, but the final product leaves much to be desired as it tells a familiar story in an undercooked and uneven fashion that prevent the effort from achieving a genuinely rewarding status. That being said, the final product doesn't fall so short that it doesn't engage just fine, and with style no less.
Even the film's musical style is worthy of some praise, as the generally very '60s and '70s score and unoriginal soundtrack is not only suavely enjoyable by its own delightfully entertaining right, but complimentary to the selling of both the liveliness and the setting of this film, whose environment is further brought to life by Carly Reddin's art direction, which restores the colorful look of the '60s and '70s (For the record, it dips into the '80s, but it still prefers the flavors of the '60s and '70s), further flavored up by the capturing of the glamour of Paul Raymond's lifestyle, and even by dashing cinematography. Hubert Taczanowski's cinematography isn't exactly stellar, but it's still very, very strong, playing with the dark depths of colorful visuals in order to capture the handsome sleaze of its risky subject matter, and look fabulous along the way. It's debatable whether or not this film looks as good as many of its female cast members, but make no mistake, it still looks excellent as a highlight in the stylistic sharpness, which isn't to say that there aren't commendable areas within this stylish biopic's substance. Even with the formulaic storytelling taken out of account, this film's subject matter has only so much intrigue, and is, in quite a few ways, sleazy to the point of featuring questionable characters and plot elements, yet through all of that, this is still a generally interesting look at the rises and falls of a controversial erotic "arts" tycoon, complete with liveliness and human trials which are sold just fine by Matt Greenhalgh's script. Greenhalgh's script is perhaps stronger than Michael Winterbottom's direction, at least when it comes to attributes beyond style, and it's still, uneven, hurried and all around pretty flawed, yet it remains brighter than some are giving it credit for, with sharp dialogue, - highlighted by clever humor - and organic layering to match unevenness and give you a feel for the depths of the characters who drive this biopic, and are themselves truly brought to life by a colorful cast. There's not a whole lot for the performers to work with here, but reasonably memorable and convincing performance can be found across the board, especially when it comes to the leads, with Imogen Poots being all but revelatory as a powerful man's spoiled and corrupted daughter on a road to ruin, while leading man Steve Coogan turns in a decidedly revelatory performance, immersing himself in the role of Paul Raymond with his usual sparkling charisma, broken up by moving dramatic beats which show that Coogan can do more than evoke chuckles. The film has its flaws, but the more you get used to it, the easier it is to pick up on its strengths, of which there isn't enough for the final product to be as rewarding as certain other biopics of its type, but are bound to keep you frequently engaged, or at least entertained, in spite of the shortcomings.
When the book is closed-I mean, when the look is... closed, or something (I confused myself with that opening paragraph that rambled on about "The Book of Love"), considerable underdevelopment, repetition and even some unevenness spawn from hurrying, while much too much familiarity reflects the natural shortcomings of this subject matter enough to drive the final product short of rewarding, but there's still enough sharp style, - formed from a fine soundtrack, colorful art direction and lovely cinematography - intriguing subject matter - done a fair amount of justice by clever writing - and charismatic acting - particularly by revelatory leading man Steve Coogan - to make Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love" a faulty, but nevertheless entertaining and sometimes dramatically engaging portrait of one of the more influential mid-20th century pornographers.
2.75/5 - Decent