Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, David Walliams, Tamsin Egerton
RunTime: 1 hr 41 mins
Rating: R21 (Sexual Scenes, Nudity And Drug Use)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/TheLookofLoveMovie
Opening Day: 24 October 2013
Synopsis: Michael Winterbottom’s “THE LOOK OF LOVE” stars Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People, The Trip) in the true-life story of Paul Raymond, the man behind Soho’s notorious Raymond Revue Bar and Men Only magazine. Paul Raymond began his professional life with an end of the pier mind-reading act. He soon realized that the audience were more interested in watching his beautiful assistant, and that they liked it even more if she was topless. He quickly became one of Britain’s leading nude revue producers. In 1958 he opened his Revue Bar in Soho, the heart of London’s West End. As it was a private club, the nudes were allowed to move. A huge success, it became the cornerstone of a Soho empire, prompting the Sunday Times in 1992 to crown him the Richest Man in Britain. The film focuses on Raymond's relationships with the three most important women in his life: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his lover Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). It is a modern day King Midas story, with Raymond acquiring fabulous wealth, but at the cost of losing the people who are closest to him.
If you haven’t heard of the British impresario Paul Raymond, then think of him as Britain’s answer to Hugh Hefner, the man a maverick behind a lucrative empire of strip clubs, soft-porn magazines and expensive real-estate in the heart of London, as well as being the country’s richest citizen for a time. Paul is the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s autobiographical drama ‘The Look of Love’, which sees ace Brit comedian Steve Coogan play the character in a rare and rather impressive dramatic role.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of the film as a whole, which largely paints a by-the-numbers portrait across three dozen years of the mogul’s colourful life. Using the occasion of the death of his most beloved child, Debbie (Imogen Potts), as a framing device, Winterbottom and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh capture the key highlights without ever delving much into each of the turning points - nor for that matter the crucial relationship between Paul and Debbie. Indeed the narrative choices here seem more perfunctory than inspired, so much so that by the end of the film, Paul remains as elusive a subject as he has ever been in the public eye.
And yet even without a lack of depth in its exploration of its subject character, there is seldom a boring moment in the film. In black-and-white, Winterbottom traces the roots of his infamy from his Cirque Nu de Paris days, where his first wife Jean (Anna Friel) would appear topless in a lion-tamer act. Paul’s first real breakthrough would come in 1958 with the opening of his Soho members-only nude Revuebar, and that episode is captured in loving detail - G-strings, feathers and all - thanks to Stephanie Collie’s lavish costumes and Jacqueline Abrahams’ impressive production design.
Juxtaposed alongside the passing of the times - Paul’s venture into theatre in the 60s with productions such as ‘Pyjamas Tops’ and his subsequent dive into the publishing business with the wildly successful ‘Men Only’ magazine in the 70s - is his relationship with two important women in his life, namely Jean and his lover-muse Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) whom he auditions for one of his plays. While his well-known promiscuous lifestyle is well emphasised, Winterbottom makes it a point to depict how that ferments his relationships with both Jean and Fiona.
Ditto for his own lack of discipline in his life, including feeding Debbie’s drug habit by supplying her cocaine while she is lying on the delivery table in pain waiting for the birth of her baby daughter. The last third of the film completes the circle of Paul’s relationships with women by focusing on that with his children - his son Howard (Matthew Beard), another son (Simon Bird) he abandoned from decades earlier and most importantly Debbie, the last of whom most drastically veers from the swinging mood of the first hour and gives the movie an emotional heft that is encapsulated beautifully in the wistful tunes of its titular song reserved for the end.
This their fourth project together, Coogan continues to find in Winterbottom an inspired director to show off his acting chops. Often typecast in fluffier roles, Coogan finds the right balance of humour, self-awareness and vulnerability to put forth a self-absorbed but never too absorbed portrayal of a complicated figure – complete, we may add, with the side-swept crop of hair that was Paul’s signature look right from the 1960s. Supporting parts are adequate but never really impressive, though one should also keep your eyes peeled for cameos by Stephen Fry as a lawyer and ‘Little Britain’ duo David Walliams and Matt Lucas.
It’s a pity that even after the film one gets the sense that we haven’t really peeled off the layers to a fascinatingly complex character. Instead we settle for an engaging rise-and-fall story of who has been dubbed ‘The King of Soho’ that purposely captures the bigger moments and leaves little room for the smaller intimate ones in its subject’s life; still, Winterbottom captures the mood and feel of the various eras perfectly, and he does it with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot.
(An always absorbing, if never quite as penetrating, portrait of a colourful and yet complex character best described as a cross between Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump)
Review by Gabriel Chong