Sundance Review: 'The Look of Love'

A highly stylized film from director Michael Winterbottom starring Steve Coogan? No, it's not "24 Hour Party People" but rather a new collaboration between the two Brits. "The Look of Love" is a sex- and drug-fueled romp through the wild life and times of legendary English porn mogul Paul Raymond, the women he loved and the business that made him the richest man in Britain.

The film takes us on a tour through the changing landscape of sexuality and the erotic industries through the swingin' '60s, the wild '70s and the darker '80s. Raymond (Steve Coogan) and his wife Jean (Anna Friel) run a successful nude review, but Raymond's promiscuous ways come between them when he falls for Amber (Tamsin Egerton), a young dancer in his new theater show that he begins dating. When Raymond decides to start a magazine, Amber takes on the moniker of Fiona Richmond and becomes a writer and pin-up for the sexy magazine. Their daughter Debbie Raymond (Imogen Poots) wants a singing career of her own but slowly falls prey to the lures of drugs and partying.

Winterbottom clearly understands design and organized chaos, as the film is a wonderful, vividly illustrated snapshot of each era. The script is delightful when it is funny, although one can never be sure how much is Coogan's off-the-cuff contributions, and forgettable the rest of the time. Just when you think you've begun to figure out what the film is addressing, and invest in that direction, it changes course yet again, offering up some new bauble to distract and amuse. Those looking for orgies and sexy photoshoots will find them, but though there's enough boobs and buns to mildly titillate, nothing actually satiates.

While the film is an ensemble, it's clear there can only be one real star. Steve Coogan is a delight to watch, effortlessly playing into the role of full-time partier and sexy multi-millionaire Raymond, and Tamsin Egerton does her best to steal the show as the fiery redhead Fiona. The rest of the cast is serviceable at best, with Anna Friel turning in an acceptable performance, and Imogen Poots doing her best as a sadly deteriorating and lost woman.

The period-appropriate wardrobe is perfect, and the production design is so well done that it fades into the background, giving the actors a bit of a break and allowing them to really showcase their ensemble talents. Unfortunately, "The Look of Love" is weighed down by a meandering plot that can't seem to find an appropriate focus, and a running time that badly needs a strong edit to tighten things up. Fans of the time period or Winterbottom's aesthetic will find much to enjoy, even though ultimately the film has very little to say.

Grade: B-