Based On The Outrageously True Story

Michael Winterbottom

Steve Coogan
Imogen Poots
Anna Friel
Tamsin Egerton

There are three clear prongs to ‘successful’ British cinema: the period drama, the urban gangster flick and the sweary/racy comedy. This established fact is very frustrating for British filmmakers as it almost dictates the conditions under which your film is expected to fall. Curiously enough, The Look Of Love could be classed as all three and yet fails to actually achieve much of anything. A completely acceptable film that held my attention to the end but I simply didn’t care about or invest in any of it.

The plot is told through flashbacks, following the death of Paul Raymond’s [Coogan] daughter, Debbie [Poots] and heir to his vast empire. If you happen to be wondering who Paul Raymond is, so was I. Thankfully, the film dutifully explains that Paul Raymond was a stage entertainer in the 1950’s who went on to own the majority of the nude clubs and theatres in London by the mid-seventies, publish the most successful men’s only magazine and was later pronounced the richest man in Britain. Taking precedence over his financial and entrepreneurial accomplishments are the various relationships and general debauchery that Paul Raymond involved himself in and how these interactions impacted on his family. Additionally, with his daughter growing up with her father as a role-model you’d assume she would be a massively unhinged nightmare but in all honesty, Debbie is portrayed as any neglected daughter, lashing out and finding drugs and bad company. All of which goes unnoticed by the self preoccupied porn mogul.

Directorially speaking, Michael Winterbottom’s varied curriculum vitae is a true testament to the man’s ability and range. Having said that, it makes it very difficult to gauge what kind of experience you’re in for when watching one of his films.. unless he’s cast Steve Coogan, in which case you’ve probably seen it before. As much as I love 24 Hour Party People and enjoyed A Cock And Bull Story, there’s something thematically similar about their structure and leading performance. The same can be said of this release. Granted, the tonality is on the serious side and the acting itself demands a little more (which Coogan adequately delivers) but it feels like a bit of a rehash of something we’ve seen before. Happily, one thing that remains constant in each of Winterbottom’s film is the attention to detail and the extremely impressive production design. All the sets, costumes, hair and makeup are perfectly fitting for the relevant time periods and genuinely sell the era. Even the quirky transition from black and white to colour for the 50’s/60’s narrative progression was a nice touch and keenly edited.

The script really tries to sell on the idea that the central character is a fairly interesting one and to a degree he is. Raymond is made more interesting by the layers piled on by Coogan’s performance and the film really shines when Raymond is interacting with his daughter – the one person he forms any real connection with, one of his most loyal supporters and ultimately, the one who suffered the most from Raymond’s lifestyle. But despite his crippled relationships with family members, baffling charisma and shallow successes with women, I failed to connect with this individual as a whole, unlike say Woody Harrelson’s gripping performance in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. And whereas The People Vs. Larry Flynt called into question the nature and politics of the pornographic industry, this film simply illustrates the existence of Britain’s most successful and wealthy pornographer. But by avoiding any political statements and failing to actually take a side as to the rights and wrongs of said industry, the entire movie feels like something is absent. One could argue that illustrating a rise and fall tale from a state of complete neutrality can work incredibly well (a good recent example would be The Social Network) but regarding a subject that is so controversial, i.e. the subjugation of women and the sheer popularity of female debasement/idolisation, neutrality will not be well met by audiences.

The Look Of Love is a commendable enough release and in parts, very well acted but as I left the screening, I could hear mutterings of “That was alright”, “Well, I wouldn’t pay to see it” and “No, I didn’t really know who he was either” all of which hung over a din of general indifference. Which is unfortunate. There’s nothing very wrong with the film, all the pieces (or ingredients, if you will) are of a decent calibre but the final product is simply lacking. An entertaining but wholly forgettable experience. It feels as though there’s a message here somewhere or something is being said but it gets lost in a rather long plodding story about a man who was pretty poor at connecting with anyone in form other than a sexual one.

Release Date:
26th April 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
After Raymond spends a small fortune putting on the most expensive play in the UK (starring his daughter in the only clothed role), he quickly discovers that the lead performance and grandiose plot simply aren’t up to scratch and he’s haemorrhaging cash. With no other alternative, the ruthless business side of him trumps the fatherly side and he cancels the production. When informing his daughter of his decision, his utter inadequacy as a father comes to the foreground. Incapable of dealing with Debbie’s devastation, all he can do is keep repeating “The show is haemorrhaging cash! What do you want me to do?” followed by “Well don’t cry about it!” It’s a perfect representation of a man who had no knowledge of how to interact with his daughter and was later surprised when she overdosed.

Notable Characters:
Chris Addison’s portrayal of the highly coked- up Tony Power (editor of magazine Men Only) was perfectly fitting of the nature of the character he was playing but also the time in which he existed. A decent personification of the prevalent kind of sleazy professional with their ridiculous attitudes yet somehow winning people over with their disarming charm.

Highlighted Quote:
“When I first started in the entertainment industry, I did this mind reading act. And I very quickly realised that people liked to look at beautiful women and liked them more so with their clothes off. So, in that way, I could read minds”

In A Few Words:
“Well executed and well performed but unlike Winterbottom’s previous collaborations with Coogan, the subject matter is simply not as appealing”

Total Score: