January 30, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE 2013: “The Look of Love”


It just wouldn’t be a film festival without something from Michael Winterbottom.  Winterbottom isn’t at the very top of the film director pantheon, but he’s respected enough that his projects have been in near-constant festival demand for most of his two decade-long career, and one way or another they tend to be included in a line-up somewhere, whether they’re wonderful (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People), interesting failures (9 Songs, The Killer Inside Me), or not very good at all (A Summer In Genoa).

Winterbottom’s Sundance contribution this year was THE LOOK OF LOVE, and despite the presence of Steve Coogan, who’s starred in The Trip, 24 Hour Party People and other Winterbottom highlights, it would probably help to be British to appreciate this one.  Look is the biography of Paul Raymond, a historical figure from late 1950s London and beyond whose name is fairly meaningless here, but who appears to have been the English equivalent of our Hugh Hefner.  Like Hefner, Raymond pioneered the rise of pornography into local pop culture, starting with a string of Soho clubs that featured nude dance revues (and some extremely lucrative real estate investments), and expanding into (semi) legitimate theatre and increasingly explicit magazines.  Raymond was also like Hefner in that he became the public face of the new sexuality, appearing on television, mixing with celebrities (he claimed his apartment had been decorated by Ringo Starr) and otherwise putting himself squarely up front.

The first half of Look of Love is buoyant, tracking Raymond’s rise, and his open marriage with tolerant wife Jean (Anna Friel), who asks for the details when he comes in at dawn after a night in some showgirl’s bed.  She’s tolerant, at least, until Raymond falls for Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), who becomes his partner in every sense, appearing in his nude shows and becoming the main sex columnist of his Playboy-like magazine.  It all turns dark in the second half, as showbiz bios and 1960s stories almost inevitably do–no sooner does someone mention the word “cocaine” then everything goes downhill.  Raymond’s relationship with his children (by Jean) was particularly troubled, with essentially no contact with one of his sons, and a very difficult life for his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), who had drug and other problems.

At least for an American viewer, Look of Love treads very familiar territory, and without the kind of insight that would make the journey worthwhile.  Matt Greenhaigh’s script feels accurate, and it tries to show Raymond’s selfishness as well as his good-humored exuberance, but it doesn’t dig very deeply.  Look is a well-made, intelligent piece of work–it’s far better than the awkward, misshapen Lovelace, the festival’s other porn biography–but in the end, it’s another drama about the excesses of the 1960s and 70s catching up with those who made the mistake of enjoying them.  Coogan gives a diligent, well-considered performance that lacks the brilliance of his more improvisational work, and Poots can’t do much as the film’s relegated tragic figure, but Friel and especially Egerton liven things up when they’re center-screen.

Unlike most of Winterbottom’s gritty work, Look of Love is an exercise in high (if deliberately excessive) style.  Hubert Taczanowski’s photography, Stephanie Collie’s costumes and Jacqueline Abrahams’ production design are all candy colors and opulent interiors (plus, of course, naked women), and as the title indicates, the music leans heavily on Burt Bacharach tunes and the like.  The movie is always pleasant enough to watch, it’s just unexceptional.

The thing about Michael Winterbottom is that he never stops working, and his films never stop being screened at festivals, so no doubt his next project will be unveiled at Cannes, or Toronto, or the next Sundance.  Look of Love is one of his more forgettable works, and soon enough it will slip our minds and we’ll move on to his next.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."