Having previously worked together on a number of projects, including ’24 Hour Party People’ and ‘A Cock and Bull Story’, the friendship between director Michael Winterbottom and leading man Steve Coogan is evident. The latest collaboration ‘The Look of Love’ displays this wholeheartedly, both clearly enjoying themselves in their representation of Soho’s seedy seventies backdrop, following porn mogul Paul Raymond , revolutionising the sex industry, whilst juggling relationships with wife Jean (Anna Friel), mistress Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and beloved daughter Debra (Imogen Poots). In a tale with more tits than a birdwatcher’s handbook boasting flamboyant British style, it offers a glossy insight into his world, but without getting fully beneath the cracks.
Starting off with an aged weather beaten Raymond, reflecting on his life and legacy, we are given a more human look at the character, who throughout the majority of the film seems rather one dimensional. Moving from woman to woman, Raymond is flashy in his Ringo Starr designed apartment, getting countless rounds of champagne (house champagne), confidently building his empire, the tycoon shows no mercy as long as he is making money. One heartless scene stands out where he is tracked down by illegitimate son Derry, the meeting with the formalities of a job interview, his business mind getting in the way of his personal life. His daughter Debbie is his biggest weakness, giving him more grey hairs than any lawsuit thrown at him by the media or his suffering wife. and it is moments when the film gets behind the persona and touches upon the father/daughter relationship that it evokes the most emotion, but these moments are unfortunately too few and far between. Nonetheless, as compelling as the low points are, the highs are carried off with real charm, the excellent soundtrack, adding to the nostalgia, capturing a sense of the scene at that time. The documentary style segments are also fun, and pleasingly informative to those who are unfamiliar with his rags to riches story.
Coogan is great as the starring man, his usual comic timing at a high standard though he lets his own personal charisma as well as his most successful creation Alan Partridge’s goofy wit disturb the depiction of the figure this supposed biopic is meant to be about, asking questions of the historical accuracy. He even squeezes in his trademark celebrity impersonations, which were used so heavily but brilliantly in Winterbottom’s mockumentary ‘The Trip’, with self indulgent disregard to his character. Aside from this, he is entirely watchable and he’d have to be alongside the leading woman. Friel is fiery as the scorned Jean, contrasting with the slick performance from Egerton as Amber turned Fiona Richmond, her stunning good looks assisting her in nearly stealing every frame she is in. Poots should be the best of the bunch, as wild child Debbie, her multilayered character offering an opportunity to excel but I felt irritated by her presence, and was disappointed that she never offered more weight to Debra’s tragic path. In a supporting cast with the established names of Fry, Walliams and Lucas, the most used is strangely Chris Addison, who is even more grating that he is on ‘Mock The Week’ as junkie magazine man Tony Power who on paper would be a exciting prospect to see on screen.
Unfazed by flops, Raymond quotes Oscar Wilde’s ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’, makes you wonder how closely tied he is with the man portraying him as with the full frontal nudity on show here, earning the 18 certificate, this film will certainly be talked about. Controversial and garish, ‘The Look of Love’ is no doubt a very enjoyable watch but as a biopic of such a complex and interesting personality, you would imagine a sense of fulfilment in seeing his rich life played out cinematically but here, the aesthetic pleasures outweigh the study of the man, failing to delve deep enough into his sordid psyche.