Review: The Look of Love (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: The true story of Soho adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan). Starting with a few adult burlesque houses, Raymond eventually rises to become one of Britain's wealthiest men- but with money and easy access to sex and drugs comes temptation, and all the money in the world can't save his marriage to wife Jean (Anna Friel) or his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) from a long downward spiral.
REVIEW: THE LOOK OF LOVE feels like a good companion piece to Steve Coogan's earlier collaboration with director Michael Winterbottom- 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE. Like that film, this is a fact-based booze and drug soaked tale of debauchery and hedonism, although whereas the characters in that film were making music history- Paul Harvey was mostly printing porn and the only thing he made was an absolute killing.
Without a doubt, Paul Raymond is a tough guy to like. He's a total phony- and what's worse, he knows it. However- that doesn't keep him from being an absolutely fascinating character to observe, and the part is probably the juiciest thing Coogan's ever been able to sink his teeth into. Winterbottom and Coogan both seem to bring something special out in each other, and THE LOOK OF LOVE is another winner for both of them.
Far more straightforward narratively than any of their previously meta collaborations, LOOK OF LOVE probably doesn't break much new ground in terms of content- but again, Paul Raymond's story is one a lot of those that are suddenly granted incredible material wealth are doomed to repeat. As soon as he strikes it rich, Raymond dumps his wife (Anna Friel- who's sexy enough you doubt his sanity for leaving her) and embarks on a twenty-year rampage of sex, drugs, and hobnobbing with swinging London society. He's so far up his own ass that his constant name-dropping even occurs on a visit to his daughters hospital room, where he brags about knowing Ringo Starr. Yes- Raymond's a jerk, but thanks to Coogan he's a fascinating and charismatic one, and Coogan doesn't shy away from making this a “warts and all” depiction (Raymond himself died in 2008).
The majority of LOOK OF LOVE is centered around Raymond's relationship with his daughter, played by the gorgeous Imogen Poots. While Raymond never gives his two sons the time of day, his daughter- Debbie, is the apple of his eye. He dotes on her every whim, even bankrolling a huge stage show to give his largely talentless daughter a foothold in showbiz. Poots plays Debbie with an underlying vulnerability, and her haunting-in-it's-mediocrity warbling of Dusty Springfield's “The Look of Love” is a recurring motif that also gives this film it's title. Raymond's so anxious for his daughter to like him, he even gives her free access to cocaine- to the extent that he even gives her a line when she's in labor. Appropriate for the time- there's tons of snorting and sniffing here. In fact- cocaine is so present in THE LOOK OF LOVE it should have gotten it's own star billing. Obviously, Debbie's heading for a fall, but with Poots playing her, you'll hope she pulls it together- even if she's a bit of an entitled brat (not unlike many tabloid grabbing starlets of today- like Lindsay Lohan).
In the end, THE LOOK OF LOVE isn't as experimentally exciting as some of Winterbottom's other films, nor does it tell you anything you don't already know (that money won't buy you happiness and too much coke will screw you up)- but it's totally entertaining. I love a good showbiz story, and this is a really good one.