Monday, January 21, 2013

Sundance ’13: The Look of Love

Paul Raymond was like the British Hefner, except he was significantly richer.  It turns out real estate and dirty magazines were a highly profitable combination.  Who knew?  Yet, despite the money and the parties, Raymond’s story is rather sad, at least according to Michael Winterbottom’s big screen treatment, The Look of Love, which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Initially a burlesque impresario, Raymond’s first foray into publishing was a failure.  The timing was better for Men Only in the early 1970’s.  Much like Hefner, Raymond planned to turn control of his companies over to his daughter Debbie.  Unfortunately, as the audience quickly understands from the flashback structure, this will not come to pass.

Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay unambiguously argues doing coke with your daughter does not constitute good parenting.  Actually, Look’s inclination to pass moral judgment is rather refreshing.  Yet, it clearly wants to have its cheesecake and eat it too.  There are plenty of scenes of Raymond’s naughty stage shows and photo-shoots.  However, the real estate side of his empire gets decidedly short shrift.  It might not be as cinematic, but it is important.  At the height of his family tragedy, Raymond was declared the wealthiest man in the UK, but Look never really explores his considerable business acumen.

Reuniting with Winterbottom again (following the thoroughly entertaining Trip), Steve Coogan is quite masterful in the dramedic lead, vividly portraying Raymond’s recklessness and remorse.  Unlike obvious comparison films (such as Boogie Nights), Look boasts several strong women characters, including Raymond’s first wife Jean and his longtime lover, Fiona Richmond, both of whom were once involved in the risqué side of his business.  One might even go so far as to say Tamsin Egerton projects empowered confidence as Richmond, the sex symbol who eventually has enough.  As Ms. Raymond #1, Anna Friel’s mature, self-possessed sexuality also works quite well on-screen.  Conversely, Imogen Poots’ lost little rich party girl persona becomes rather exhausting.

It is hard not to enjoy Raymond’s breezy first act success story, but since we know more or less how it ends, the third act plays out like a grim end-game.  As a period production, Look gets the groovy details right and if you dig David and Bacharach, you will have plenty to hum along with here.  Look is a fascinating morality tale, but it just could have used a bit more pep down the stretch.  Recommended reservedly for Coogan fans and those obsessed with the early adult smut industry, The Look of Love screens again Wednesday (1/23) in Salt Lake, Thursday (1/24) in Sundance Resort, and Saturday (1/26) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.