The Look of Love is a 2013 biopic of Paul Raymond, a self made man dubbed ‘The King of Soho’ thanks to his enormous property empire which included numerous clubs, bars, strip clubs and theatres. Branching out later to pornographic magazines he became Britain’s wealthiest man in 1992 with an estimated worth of £650 million. The film takes us back to his beginnings as a small time entertainer who hit upon the idea of a private gentlemen’s club in which naked women would appear in live shows, something that was previously banned in the UK. From here the movie charts his rise, reaching the dizzy heights of drug addled fame before crashing down to personal disaster.
Behind the camera is Michael Winterbottom, a man capable of producing excellent work (24 Hour Party People, Trishna, The Trip) while his frequent collaborator Steve Coogan takes on the role of Raymond. The film features some delicious period detail and more naked women than you could shake a stick at so why did I find it all so dull?
Despite the lavish interior sets and attention to detail in costume and hair (both collar and cuffs), the film never grabbed me. I was extremely bored throughout and never really cared about any of the characters. Paul Raymond is a smooth talking self publicist who spends the film going from one gorgeous woman to another while his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) is portrayed as a spoiled, talentless daddy’s girl. Neither are particularly fun to be around and despite Coogan injecting a bit of humour into Raymond, I never missed them when they weren’t on screen. Raymond’s life was either not interesting or the film made it feel so. Considering he was a philandering, multi millionaire who owned Soho, I fear it’s the latter.
Even when things take a turn for the worse and death is involved, I didn’t feel a thing, this despite the fact that these were real people. The film failed to make me care about real people dying. In an attempt to cram in forty years of life story, it skims along the surface, never penetrating even the most interesting moments. Wives, girlfriends and enterprises come and go but you just don’t care. Almost every character is painted as one dimensional, from the sex addicted girlfriend to the drug addicted business partner; no character is drawn like a real person. Perhaps this was a conscious decision and the real people actually had nothing else to them but it doesn’t make for very entertaining viewing.
The film is pitched somewhere between comedy and drama, in a field in which Coogan and Winterbottom should shine but it falls between the two. There are no real laughs despite the comic talent on display and as I’ve talked of already, the drama is non existent. There are attempts a bawdy, seaside humour which land way short of comedy and the sauciness of the flesh on display is presented in an almost Carry On manner. Winterbottom’s direction is fine but nothing special but as I’ve said, the film captures some nice period detail. I especially liked the fact that the 1950s were shot in black and white before the explosion of colour in the 60s. This was a fine idea, well executed. One of the main problems visually is that the film looked very televisual. This has been a problem with some of Winterbottom’s previous work but no time more so than here.
On the acting front, there is a real mixed bag. The film makes use of a cast made up of largely comedians and television actors who perform generally as you’d expect. Steve Coogan has had a terrific 2013 with Alpha Papa and Philomena both terrific films but this is the weakest of his three performances. There’s too much Coogan and not enough Raymond in the performance but he is one of the strongest in a fairly weak showing. Imogen Poots really disappoints with an uneven and annoying performance. She seems lost and unsure as to what her role really is and it’s a shame because she’s a decent actress. The likes of Simon Bird and David Walliams go way over the top but Chris Addison surprised me, performing well under a mountain of hair. Anna Friel is also a rare shining star in a murky night sky.
In the end The Look of Love is a huge disappointment. It isn’t fun, it isn’t funny, it isn’t sexy and you don’t feel for the characters. I feel like I wasted my time with the film and really wanted to get on side with it but was given no chance. A wasted opportunity at an interesting life story.
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