Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s torchy seduction song clues us in to the evolving spirit of Michael Winterbottom’s half-excellent latest—first as a coy whiff of mid-’60s sexual naughtiness, then as a desperate cry for help. The movie is a biopic of London gentlemen’s-club impresario Paul Raymond who, via another hyperarticulate Steve Coogan performance (much like his Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People), seems to be the only character gifted with constant ironic gab. Raymond launches his Revuebar strip show in the late ’50s, swanning around in his newfound wealth, real-estate investments and the female attention afforded by a long marital leash.
Zippy and saturated with soft-core nudity, The Look of Love isn’t hard to watch, especially when statuesque Tamsin Egerton enters the picture as a redheaded dancer who captures Raymond’s heart. Still, the plot structure feels especially rickety—you roll your eyes waiting for the comeuppance. Call it an unexpected measure of daring, then, that the movie shifts into a harsh vein of parental irresponsibility, Raymond walking out on his family and, many years later, allowing his older daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots, dangerously vulnerable), to enter the business. She’s a terrible singer—her debut production is a smoking, Citizen Kane–type disaster—and starts doing coke with Dad at parties. Alas, scrappiness is not a genetic trait, and the movie ends with a long-telegraphed wallop—moralistic, but an appreciated attempt to go beyond the party.
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