Michael Winterbottom has made a lot of goddamn movies. Unlike most directors, though, he doesn’t really have a type of film that he sticks to or is known for. This lack of a label allows him to move effortlessly from comedy to drama, political to
pornographic artistic, period to contemporary, and once and a while he’ll even dip his toes into the biographical.
It’s that last category that his latest film, The Look of Love, resides… alongside strong elements of the dramatic, comedic, period and artistic, of course.
Steve Coogan plays real-life multi-millionaire Paul Raymond, a man whose immense fortune came on the backs of nude women dancing in his clubs, posing in his magazines and playing in his bed. Starting in the near present with the death of his daughter, the film flashes back to his early days as proprietor of a classy gentleman’s club and traces his rise in wealth and fame alongside his descent into sleaze and immorality.
Raymond’s early professional life netted him a wife, Jean (Anna Friel), and two children. The couple have an open relationship, but he pushes the boundaries even further, causing Jean to leave. He forms a relationship with the very attractive and sexually adventurous Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), but his selfish behaviors find a way to ruin that as well.
His climb to the top continues once his now-grown daughter (Imogen Poots) comes to join the family business, but what came easy to him manages to elude and depress the young woman. Guess she picked a bad time to not quit heroin.
Winterbottom’s film has two obvious things going for it in Coogan and the beautiful retro look. Coogan has played funny pricks before, most recently (and notably) in The Trip, and he’s tasked with playing someone similar here. The only real differences being that he gets laid a lot more here and his callousness reaches new levels of insincerity. He isn’t stretching as an actor as much as you’d think the role would have afforded — hell, he even manages to throw in a couple impressions — but he still plays the character well and effectively.
Visually the film is a delight, as well, and does a fantastic job of immersing viewers into London’s streets through the Sixties, Seventies and beyond. Everything from the costumes to the set design evoke a time and a place as well as any Hollywood period piece, and Hubert Taczanowski shoots it all with a sharp eye unafraid of the rough edges on both people and places.
The rest of the cast does a fine job, with Friel, Egerton and Poots all vying for second billing just as their characters strived for it in Raymond’s life. It doesn’t hurt that all three of them are easy on the eyes either.
What doesn’t work well enough, though, is the script by Matt Greenhalgh. The impression of the film seems to be of a rags-to-riches-to-rags kind of tale, but Raymond’s life never followed that path. He went from a nothing to a something and stayed right there comfortably screwing models beneath his penthouse’s retractable moon roof. Minor legal troubles are rushed through quickly leaving only his relationships with family and lovers to generate drama.
But since Raymond stays front and center the entire time we never really get to know those other people. We only see them in their direct dealings with him and not as fleshed out individuals, and the result is simple, generic character conflicts between Raymond and ex-wife, Raymond and daughter and Raymond and girlfriend. It leaves you antsy for something deeper — or at least more sex and nudity to pass the time.
Thankfully you won’t need to wait long for the latter option.
The Look of Love is a mildly entertaining character study that never gets beneath the surface of its lead or supporting players. Of course, it looks good warts and all, and Winterbottom is an interesting enough director that even his misses are worth a watch.
The Upside: Coogan plays an asshole beautifully; some genuine humor; lots of naked ladies on display; Tamsin Egerton.
The Downside: Paul Raymond has no real character arc or noticeable struggle; no likeable characters.
On the Side: IFC Films has picked up the film’s distribution rights.