Steve Coogan, with silly hairdo, plays the refined English pornographer Paul Raymond in "The Look of Love." Credit: Studiocanal / The Look of Love 2013 Steve Coogan, with silly hairdo, plays the refined English pornographer Paul Raymond in "The Look of Love."
Credit: Studiocanal

‘The Look of Love’
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

At first blush, the life of Paul Raymond would seem not only ripe for comedy, but ripe for a comedy starring Steve Coogan. The actor is a wiz at playing men (and sometimes women) oblivious of their true, usually awful nature. Alan Partridge, his most famous creation, is his life’s work: a charmingly charmless ego monster in whom Coogan has, for 20 years, always found new surprising layers of banal evil. Raymond would seem as rich a creation: a pornographer who refused to use the word, he was a well-dressed and amusingly coiffed man who opened Britain’s first strip club in the 1960s, then moved into nudie mags. He wisely siphoned his success into real estate — and drugs, of course — and was at one point the richest man in England. His wild life would be a satirical laugh riot — were it not for the pesky fact that his beloved daughter, Debbie, perished from a heroin overdose.

The tragic end to his story would make for a buzzkill. “The Look of Love,” Coogan’s fourth movie with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, kills the buzz from the start. It’s “Boogie Nights” in a deep funk, with Coogan’s Raymond played as a refined cad who never really gets to enjoy the rise before the fall. He jilts a surreally understanding wife (Anna Friel) for one of his curvy stars (Tasmin Egerton), who only sticks with him until she grows weary of orgies and coke parties. His only constant is Debbie (played in adulthood by Imogen Poots), whom he tries to turn into a weak-voiced singer.

 

The father-daughter relationship is the film’s most interesting thread. Filled with creeping, thankfully never resolved sexual tension, it pits Debbie as the would-be opera star wife in “Citizen Kane,” only here she’s fully complicit in and, thanks to a drug habit, never aware of her humiliation. The rest is distressingly flat, superficial and traditional — the fault, presumably, with hiring as screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote the similarly literal Ian Curtis biopic "Control."

Potential comedic moments introduce themselves and are never acted upon. At one point Raymond chastises his daughter not for doing coke but for not doing the good stuff, and one can sense Coogan and Winterbottom — who played Tony Wilson for laughs in “24 Hour Party People” — ostentatiously not taking the comedic bait. Should they be commended for not going the easy route? Or should they be chastised for playing things straight and square? Both. Despite a movingly haunted Coogan performance, the ironic thing is by not playing Raymond for laughs, he, Winterbottom and Greenhalgh have made him a less interesting figure.

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