If someone had told me that director Michael Winterbottom would make the dullest movie Sundance had to offer this year, I would’ve laughed it off. Unfortunately, after seeing ‘The Look of Love’, I have to apologize to that person.
Winterbottom has a history for making anything but bland movies. I saw ‘The Killer Inside Me‘ at Sundance a few years ago, and while I didn’t think it was good, I admired its full-throttle nature. One woman in the audience was so incensed by it that she stood up in a Q&A and screamed at the director. That’s why I’m so baffled as to how Winterbottom created such a flat movie experience from the life story of British erotica king Paul Raymond.
Steve Coogan plays the eccentric Raymond. The movie follows his ascent to become the Larry Flynt of Britain. Starting out with a few peep show clubs, Raymond’s empire of flesh grew exponentially until he was tagged as the richest man in England.
Like most bio-pics of quickly gained wealth and fame, ‘The Look of Love’ is a cautionary tale. Raymond had no scruples, as far as the movie is concerned. He routinely slept with the women in his shows, which strained his marriage to its breaking point. He loved his daughter, but also did drugs with her. He exhaustively tried to be cool rather than to be a parent.
The movie focuses on three women in Raymond’s life: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) and his lover Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). The film fails to emotionally connect any of these characters. It tries, but the whole experience comes across like a made-for-TV movie instead of a cinematic bio-pic of one of the world’s most famous pornographers.
Speaking of porn, the movie has enough nudity to make an issue of Playboy look tame by comparison. Yet even with all that naked flesh, Winterbottom still couldn’t unearth any sort of emotional foundation for his lifeless characters.
In the end, it’s difficult to care about Raymond’s story and the trials he went through later in life, because the movie fails to get the audience involved. It’s all surface, but no depth. Coogan tries his best to lighten the mood with some decent comedy, but the screenplay is so stale that even he can’t revive it.