The Look of Love
Michael Winterbottom's biopic of soft porn tycoon Paul Raymond never finds its tone
Despite juicy subject matter and a promising cast, this biopic of the British strip club and soft porn tycoon Paul Raymond never quite finds its tone. In its first half, it deploys a weak end-of-the-pier comic mode which might fit its tasselled, trashy, tarts-and-vicars milieu to a tee, but does very little to humanise its characters – meaning that the emotional investment it gropes for in its latter stages feels unearned, and thus simply doesn’t materialise.
The casting of regular Michael Winterbottom lead Steve Coogan sadly doesn’t help with this: Coogan might know exactly how to construct an endearing sleazebag given to bad puns and fruity asides, but he is hardly one to disappear into a role, and his comic persona simply overwhelms any characterisation he may be attempting here. The great tragedy for Raymond, whose Soho gentlemen’s establishments and glossy jazz mags made him for a period the richest man in Britain, was the loss of his beloved daughter Debbie to drugs and ill health. But Raymond’s familial relationships are thinly and confusingly sketched (an additional adult son shows up and vanishes without being explained), and Debbie’s druggie decline is so awkwardly pitched between pantomime and pathos that the Glasgow Film Festival audience sniggered uncertainly through a scene of her demanding a line of coke whilst in the throes of labour.
A clear precursor to this film is Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, but the depth and ambiguity that film brought to its amiable monster of a protagonist just doesn’t kick in here. One upside is the female performers – Imogen Poots as Debbie, Anna Friel as her mother Rita, and Tamsin Egerton as the brainy dollybird for whom Rita is forsaken – all of whom are forceful, gorgeous, funny, and generally better than this rather thinly-realised project asks them to be.
The Look of Love screened at Glasgow Film Festival. On general release from Fri 26 Apr.