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24-Carat Party People

The Look of Love (2013)

Charlie Gray/Studiocanal

Paul Raymond, not just a name to conjure with but the name to conjure with if any of your teenage years coincided with 1970s Soho, withstands most of the attempts made by Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love" to unpick his inner workings with outer shell safely intact. As incisive inquisitions go, Mr. Winterbottom opts to attack his subject with a soft cushion. Raymond's many supposed sins against British good taste and more certain crimes against his own family are presented as-is, side effects of a northern lad's uninhibited progress through the big city. Even the vast cultural upheavals happening in his country and on his doorstep — some with fuses lit by Raymond himself — can only vaguely be heard rumbling somewhere off in the distance, exploding out of sight and around the corner.

The contrast with "24 Hour Party People" and its exuberant version of Tony Wilson — another British cultural lightning rod tackled by this director and likewise portrayed by Steve Coogan — could not be greater or more deliberate. Wilson was turned into an elemental spirit rising up out of the sandstone, while Mr. Coogan's infinitely more restrained version of Raymond is earthbound by feet of pure clay, gaining nearly the whole of London W1 and losing the better part of his own soul. It's not even made clear if the endless sex was much fun, although the chance to jump on Tamsin Egerton's fizzy version of Fiona Richmond could easily convince a man that he was living a righteous life.

Mr. Winterbottom's casting of present-day comedians in bit parts is par for the course, but using current newsreaders as the talking heads opens up the charitable interpretation that all this restraint is in the service of commentary on the present, now that the sex industry has lost its ability to wind anyone up over anything. Cocooned inside his Pharaoh's hoard of ornate tat, Raymond's pre-Internet vision of porn as a worthy social commodity among adults is made extra-quaint by Mr. Coogan's inertia. But it leaves the film in a jam, unwilling to poke fun at its subject but unable to draw much of a bead on him either.

Elsewhere there are more fireworks. Anna Friel gets her best part in a dog's age as Raymond's put-upon wife Jean, who delivers her best revenge via a spread in his own magazine. And the heart of the matter is what goes on between Raymond and his beloved daughter Debbie, a worthy vehicle for Imogen Poots. Seven years ago a wordless 60 seconds in "V for Vendetta" had some of us making a note of her name as soon as we could see straight again, and that same effortless empathy is in full flower here as poor doomed Debbie. Already condemned by genetics and fate, Debbie marries the man who composed the Shake n' Vac commercial jingle, and whose crimes in British eyes may outweigh anything her father got up to.


Opens on April 26 in Britain and on July 5 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom; written by Matt Greenhalgh; director of photography, Hubert Taczanowski; edited by Mags Arnold; production design by Jacqueline Abrahams; costumes by Stephanie Collie; produced by Melissa Parmenter; released by Studiocanal (Britain) and IFC Films (United States). Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is rated 18 by B.B.F.C. and not rated by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Steve Coogan (Paul Raymond), Anna Friel (Jean Raymond), Tamsin Egerton (Fiona Richmond), Imogen Poots (Debbie Raymond), Chris Addison (Tony Power), James Lance (Carl Snitcher), Matthew Beard (Howard Raymond) and Simon Bird (Jonathan Hodge).


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