Paul Raymond - British publisher, pornographer and real estate mogul - gets the True Hollywood Story treatment in Michael Winterbottom's biopic The Look of Love. It's a stylish but shallow exploration of one of the richest men in the world (until his death in 2008), following him from his posh topless clubs in the '60s to the more risqué soft-core magazine industry of the '70s to his ever expanding empire of real estate and raunch in the '80s and beyond.
The film opens with the drug overdose death in 1992 of Raymond's beloved daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), and then jumps backward to the years before her birth. Normally I'd disapprove of this pointless flash-forward, but most people know Raymond's story, so I suppose it's valid to dispense with the surprise. Winterbottom clearly wanted to make sure from the get-go that the story of this debonair gentleman with the swingin' lifestyle ends in tragedy, so we shouldn't get too comfortable with all the boobs, booze and panache.
The Look of Love has panache in spades, I'll give it that. Winterbottom directs in an upbeat, snazzy style, lots of neon and girly silhouettes and kaleidoscope visuals. Raymond was a great showman, and the film recreates his productions of topless babes and exotic animals with due enthusiasm. But most of the film's flair comes from leading man Steve Coogan, who injects a polished vigor into the role. Raymond was terrific with the press and a marvel with the ladies, and it's easy to see that Coogan had a blast in the character. I had a blast watching him.
Poots is lovely as the doomed Debbie, whom Raymond was grooming to take over his billion dollar empire. Pushing Daisies' Anna Friel is really great as Raymond's first wife Jean Raymond, and other solid supporting turns are given by Matt Lucas (as Divine!), David Walliams and Stephen Fry.
But the only presence that truly holds up against Coogan's urbane charm is Tamsin Egerton as Raymond's long-time girlfriend Fiona Richmond. In a film full (and I mean full) of gorgeous, fully naked women, Egerton stands out with astonishing appeal. She's sexy and vibrant.
Oh yes - the naked ladies. Raymond's life was one of champagne, cocaine and threesomes, and the film doesn't skimp on any of that. It's certainly a fun romp, full of bon mots and bare bums, and it's an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. But don't expect to learn anything deeper of Raymond's life than what can be gleaned from his Wikipedia page.