The subject of The Look of Love, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), became the richest man in Britain because he recognised the demand for entertainment featuring naked women. Constantly pushing at the boundaries of taste with his striptease stage shows and magazine Men Only, he built an empire of sleaze with a diminishing veneer of respectability, all the while deflecting accusations of degrading women with a smile and a joke.
Steve Coogan successfully pulls off the trick of making Raymond occasionally likeable but more often than not, a cold and callous businessman. That anyone would want to sit through this man’s story could be down to a couple of reasons. Firstly Raymond’s relationship with his wayward and spiraling into tragedy daughter and secondly the gratuitous flesh liberally put on display.
Like the recent Spring Breakers, The Look of Love has more female nudity than your average men’s magazine. Unsurprisingly given the nature of Raymond’s business, breasts are jiggling everywhere. Full frontal nudity is on stage, in beds and splashed across the pages of Raymond’s increasingly daring magazines. It’s all part of the allure of the entrepreneur’s lifestyle that he is constantly surrounded by half or completely naked women, many of which end up in his luxurious penthouse bed under the stars, often more than one at a time.
But the appeal of the casual, coked up and boozy swinging sixties and seventies sex is always tempered by the flash forwards to Raymond’s later life as he sits in front of the television, watching his daughter give a revealing television interview before tragedy struck.
The Look of Love is above all a cautionary tale, much more so than the similarly debauched and loaded with excess Spring Breakers. Raymond is a tragic figure, though it is hard to fully sympathise with him. A man who clearly had or could have had anything he wanted, spoiled his daughter, treated his wives and lovers like disposable goods and ended up sad and alone, his wealth and empire meaning little after the loss of his daughter. The women in his life, most notably daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) and wife Jean (Anna Friel) are excellent in roles that could have easily been one note and unsympathetic.
The names and faces of British comedy pop up thick and fast, some in blink and you’ll miss them cameos, others for longer stretches. Chris Addison is excellent as coked up associate and bad influence on Raymond’s daughter Tony Power. David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Simon Bird and Stephen Fry are completely underused in small and often utterly trivial roles but add to the star power of this Brit glitz and grime caper.
The seedy underground clubs, lavish shows and all night party living all clearly take their toll on Raymond but Winterbottom captures the decades of decadence with an excellent eye for production design. The sets, locations, costumes, hair and make-up all make for a wonderful whirling kaleidoscope of colour and kitsch. At some points the montages feel like seedy Austin Powers outtakes with their funky editing, music and scantily clad women in various states of seductive posing.
The Look of Love is fascinating in its study of a man with plenty of desire for the opposite sex but little regard for their emotional well being. Paul Raymond is an enigma; keen to exploit the flesh of young women but also protective of his own daughter. He is both caring and doting and father and also completely and utterly useless at protecting Debbie from the wrongs of the world in which he introduces and launches her. Raymond is a man with little respect for women, a complete disinterest in his own son and who literally spoiled his daughter to her demise but Coogan makes him eminently watchable and bordering on sympathetic as he sits alone in his old age.
After Winterbottom and Coogan’s previous collaborations on 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip, The Look of Love appears both tremendously ambitious and extremely conventional. It might not push the boundaries quite as much as 9 Songs in terms of on screen sex but it does have plenty for pervs in the way of the female form.
The Look of Love is the rise and fall of an exploitative entrepreneur. Raymond may not be overly likeable but his relationship with his daughter can be touching and provides evidence of a misguided heart beneath the brash exterior perfectly played by Coogan.
Here's the trailer: