The Look Of Love - DVD Review

'Winterbottom fails to achieve the emotional highs and lows the story requires to make it feel anything other than ordinary, a fatal error when telling the story of a man whose life was anything but.'

Recounting the life of “King of Soho” Paul Raymond, it’s Michael Winterbottom’s undemanding approach which is ultimately his greatest failing in The Look Of Love. Whilst certainly enjoyable, the pervading feeling throughout is that Winterbottom could have achieved a lot more with the material he has, especially considering his previous work with leading man Steve Coogan.

Winterbottom undeniably manages to deliver a fair amount to like here, not least the central performance from Coogan as Raymond. A hybrid of Peter Stringfellow and Alan Partridge, Coogan’s performance strikes the right balance between humour and pathos when necessary. Raymond is undoubtedly a consistently intriguing, occasionally fascinating character; whilst this isn’t likely to go down as a defining performance for Coogan, it certainly deserves recognition as one of his stronger turns away from out-and-out comedy. Elsewhere, the support is largely solid if not exactly memorable with the likes of Chris Addison, David Walliams and Simon Bird all in supporting roles, all of whom do well but are never truly utilised to their fullest.

The director manages some impressive cinematography, with the film’s style and palette transforming as The Look Of Love’s story moves from the late 1950s through to the early 1990s. The authenticity Winterbottom creates throughout is impressive, his take on each decade feeling distinct without ever entering the realms of parody. There’s also some fascinating insight into how both attitudes and laws concerning nudity and decency (both of which feature heavily in Paul Raymond’s self-proclaimed “world of erotica”) changed in Britain throughout the second half of the 20th Century. In the 1950s, when Raymond begins his career, nudes are only allowed on stage as “human statues” - that is, they literally aren’t allows to move; by the 1980s, Raymond conducts business meetings in his clubs whilst distracted by a boundary-pushing leather-clad sex show.

It’s a genuine shame then that Winterbottom regularly squanders his robust and provocative set-up by making some conspicuous errors. The director initially frames the story with an aging Raymond looking back on his life after the death of his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), but this device is used so spasmodically that you’ll more than likely forget about it until the narrative suddenly returns to it in jarring fashion. Winterbottom fails to achieve the emotional highs and lows the story requires to make it feel anything other than ordinary, a fatal error when telling the story of a man whose life was anything but. The director never stays long enough at any one point in Raymond’s life to allow matters to resonate fully, with events such as Debbie’s breast cancer diagnosis mentioned and then moved on from alarmingly quickly. At times you’ll be sure you’re meant to care deeply about what you’re seeing, but all you’ll feel is indifference.

Winterbottom clearly has the filmmaking nous to pull off a biopic of a larger-than-life figure such as Paul Raymond, but there’s an overriding feeling here that, having bagged Raymond’s story, he’s never entirely sure of what to do with it. The idea of Raymond playing a role thoughout his life (he changed his name from Geoffrey Quinn early in his career, a fact alluded to several times) is occasionally touched upon but never explored in a satisfying manner. What should be a stimulating, taboo-broaching tale ends up as a largely generic and episodic life story; entertaining certainly, but rarely memorable.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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