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porn again? (The Look of Love review)

The Look of Love yellow light Steve Coogan

I’m “biast” (pro): love Winterbottom and Coogan, separately and together

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)


It’s more than a disappointment — it’s a puzzlement. How did Michael Winterbottom, who’s made so many intriguing movies that veer well away from the cautious (Everyday, Code 46), make a film so tediously conservative as The Look of Love? Winterbottom’s ability to reject accepted social narratives is so much a part of why I love his work that I never could have imagined that he would make a movie about porn (and real-estate) mogul Paul Raymond — at one point the richest man in Britain — that so readily embraced status-quo assumptions about sexuality and conformity, or lack thereof.

Raymond “himself” — in the highly amusing form of Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, The Other Guys), who is all sorts of wonderful here, as he always is — invites us into his “world of erotica”… and Winterbottom doesn’t appear to see anything at all ironic in a “world” of erotica that is entirely about offering up a narrow range of conventionally attractive women for the consumption of heterosexual male desires. Sure, the career of Raymond — from his “tasteful” strip clubs of the 1950s through his forays into “legitimate” theater full of “artistic” (female) nudity in the late 60s and early 70s and into a sideline of publishing of a magazine that may have been only debatably actually pornographic but still unquestionably objectified women — is a microcosm of how our culture turned women into a commodity to be consumed by men, in ways increasingly obnoxious, in the postwar decades. But Love, written by Matt Greenhalgh (Nowhere Boy), accepts this as if it were all just cheeky good fun; the few moments that dip into Monty Python territory do so mostly by reminding us that the Python boys were already casting a satirical eye across the absurdities of what passes for acceptable in our society’s public life (and what doesn’t) at the precise same time Raymond was being dubbed the “King of Soho,” for his nightclub business as well as real-estate holdings. With our distance in time, we can’t do better today?

But never mind satire: even as drama, Love can’t find its footing. We’re meant to see as tragic Raymond’s relationship with his children, most notably his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots [A Late Quartet, Fright Night), who makes the best with what little she’s given to work with), whom Raymond had once envisioned inheriting his empire. Debbie declares that her dad is her best friend, but we see little evidence for this — I wish we had, for, assuming that it was true, it would have made for a strikingly original father-daughter tale. (A bit more exploration of Raymond’s open marriage to Debbie’s mother, Jean, wouldn’t have gone amiss, either; instead, the awesome Anna Friel [You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Land of the Lost] is left with the bones of a very familiar wronged-wife role.)

The only hint of the truly status quo-busting story that might have been — the sort I can’t believe Winterbottom wouldn’t have wanted to make — comes in one tiny stunned look on the face Raymond’s mistress, Amber (Tamsin Egerton: Chalet Girl), who has been appearing nude onstage and turning herself into a caricature of “sexy” for Raymond’s magazine. She listens to Raymond tell someone that there’s no way that his own daughter would appear nude onstage — she’s too good for that. But it’s okay for the likes of Amber? The double standard inherent in that, and the impact it has on the woman Raymond made his fortune off of, isn’t of any interest at all here.


Watch The Look of Love online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

UK
DVD/streaming

Amazon UK DVD
US/Canada release date: Jul 5 2013 | UK release date: Apr 26 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated TBND (contains tits but no dicks)
MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 18 (contains strong sexualised nudity, sex and hard drug use)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • RogerBW

    Since I find Coogan skeezy in much the same way that MAJ has described Matthew McConnaughey, this was always going to have a hard time winning me over.

    Raymond’s safely dead (since 2008), so it can’t have been the usual fear of lawsuits. I wonder if some of his family had an uncontentious film as the price of their cooperation?