The Look Of Love could and probably should scream “great film”. It pairs director, Michael Winterbottom with comedian, Steve Coogan (they are the men who worked on 24 Hour Party People and the TV show, The Trip). The story is about a legend. The name Paul Raymond may not mean much but he was England’s answer to Hugh Hefner and the script was written by Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy). But for all of its pedigree and promise of glitz, glamour and tawdriness, this film is just a likeable-enough romp that is more lukewarm than hot stuff.
Raymond was a self-made man whose story is your classic rags-to-riches tale. He left Liverpool with five bob in his pocket and started his showbiz career as a mind-reader. By the nineties he would be Britain’s richest man. He did this by turning his sights to erotica, men’s magazines, night clubs, property ownership and other risqué shows and productions. Some people called it filth, exploitation and sleaze while others saw this as entrepreneurship and giving the people (mostly men) what they want.
The film actually shares a few things in common with Coogan’s other works. There is a hint of his character, Alan Partridge, in the mass of bad hair and arrogant lines that Raymond comes packaged in along with some seventies-styled fur-coats and moustaches. The other parallel is with 24 Hour Party People and Coogan’s treatment of the larger-than-life owner of Factory Records, Tony Wilson. The Look Of Love also deals with the subject matter in a similar way to that classic biopic. It toys with conventional film formats to ultimately tell the story of a Northern Englishman, except that this one won’t enjoy that same cult status because it also contains a series of misfires.
Raymond is the “King Of Soho” and we jump around and touch on different points in his life- as an old man dealing with the loss of his beloved daughter to a heroin overdose; as a young guy when he was just starting out in the biz; and the heady coke-filled days in the 70s that are Studio 54 but with a lot more nudity. A lot of episodes from Raymond’s life are tackled but he still feels like an incomplete caricature and little more than a womanising buffoon at times than an actual person. This could be due to his cold-hearted, lack of self-awareness and resemblance to extreme characters like Partridge and Austin Powers.
The most telling elements in Raymond’s personality shine through in the relationships (or the lack thereof) that he has with three important women and his estranged sons. There’s his late daughter, Debbie Raymond (a fantastic Imogen Poots) who had been built up as his heir apparent despite a noticeable lack of talent. There’s his long-suffering first wife, Jean Raymond (Anna Friel) who initially turns a blind eye to their open marriage and the gorgeous girlfriend, Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). All three actresses put in solid performances that occasionally outshine the star.
The film is freewheeling and muddled at best. It seems unsure whether it wants to be a light comedy, an honest biopic, a drama or a soft porn flick. The story often switches between decades and the film boasts fictional news reports and two documentaries-within-documentaries. Plus, some of the older sections are in black-and-white while rest is in full, exaggerated colour. The nudity is always shown in colour and it is used to the point of saturation, meaning at times it blends into feeling like gratuitous background noise.
The Look Of Love is redeemed however, by its snappy dialogue including various sharp one-liners and an excellent musical soundtrack. The latter features: T-Rex, Donovan, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, among others. Another highlight is the huge list of cameos which reads like a veritable who’s who of English entertainment: Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, David Williams, Chris Addison, Dara O’Briain and Simon Bird.
The latest collaboration between Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan is certainly not their strongest work. But it is an exercise in hedonism, overstatement and sauciness. It is also a tale about an interesting character, even if the film doesn’t always show this. At its best it is playful, glamorous and funny and at other moments it’s repetitive and leaves a bad aftertaste. The Look Of Love is ultimately a kitsch and colourful biopic that is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.
Originally published on 19 June 2013 at the following website:
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