Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Starring Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry, Tamsin Egerton, Matt Lucas, David Walliams and Simon Bird.
The life of Paul Raymond, the controversial entrepreneur who became Britain's richest man.
That Michael Winterbottom continues to seek depths in Steve Coogan that no-one else bothers to explore is the chief reason to watch The Look of Love, another film about hedonism that isn’t sure how to deal with its portrayal of excess. The film features perhaps Coogan’s best serious performance so far, discounting Winterbottom’s The Trip. Only there Coogan played a version of himself – here, he’s fully transformed into a preening narcissist, optimist and self-obsessed showman.
What’s interesting is that Coogan’s instinct isn’t to mine Paul Raymond for comedy. Rather he’s subtle and tragic, where Raymond’s showmanship could’ve been a signal for a lesser actor to play it big and broad. He provides the few impactful moments; Raymond in one scene berates rather than comforts his own daughter (Imogen Poots) for crying in public, Coogan emanating coldness and embarrassment. Surprisingly, Coogan – one of Britain’s finest comedians – is the best dramatic actor on show in The Look of Love.
Anna Friel (as Raymond’s wife), Tamsin Egerton (as his mistress) and Imogen Poots are all fine, but forgettable, overshadowed by the lead. Though they’re still better than the hugely pointless cameo actors elsewhere, made up of a roster of famous faces, apparently here only to draw crowds. ‘David Walliams,’ ‘Stephen Fry’ and ‘Simon Bird’ on the poster might have been good for drawing viewers, but their broadly comedic appearances in the film are irritatingly distracting.
Worst of all is that Winterbottom plays it straight as director, working from a typically uninspired true story screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh. The decades-spanning film feels small and inessential, and tame despite the subject matter. And with his attention-grabbing gimmicks stripped away (real sex in 9 Songs! Subjects playing themselves in 24 Hour Party People! Potential misogyny in The Killer Inside Me!), Winterbottom is exposed. This is, as a result, the director’s most boring film.
With Winterbottom’s movies seemingly so often starting out as experiments, it’s difficult to ascertain what the experiment was this time. Maybe it was to delve into the realm of the conventional biopic and attempt to make something interesting out of the formula, but Winterbottom falls victim to all the usual traps: The Look of Love is slavish to the facts, and ready to milk emotional trauma. It’s only in the film’s curious preoccupation with the inevitability of death and ageing – intertwined with Coogan’s performance – that the film leaves some impression.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Brogan Morris - Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.