The Look of Love is a biopic about Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), Britain’s richest man. Matt Greenhalgh wrote the script, with the bulk of the material coming from Paul Willetts’s biography, Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond. Paul Raymond was a self-made man, a British version of Hugh Hefner, Larry Flint, and Ringling Bros. all rolled into one. He came from Liverpool with only five bob in his pocket (as he proudly proclaimed) and built an empire based on the scintillating world of erotica. He started with strip-tease shows, moved into theater that featured a significant amount of unnecessary nudity, and then started publishing magazines both in the UK and the US. At one point, he says that his first gig was as a mind-reader and that his best trick was to read the minds of all the men who would pay to see a girl take her knickers off. He is the perfect example of rags to riches, a British Horatio Alger.
The movie (directed by Michael Winterbottom) is structured in a creative fashion, using flashbacks, reflections, comic book-like montage, and even a documentary within the movie. The movie begins with an older Paul, broken and sad, placing a video into the VCR. He is watching the story of his life, and the movie will occasionally cut back to him, his silent, sad face providing the only commentary to the actions and events of his life. This is a man who gained everything and, in the process, lost the one closest to him. Regrets, he has a few.
Paul’s life can be divvied up into three sections, signified by three women. The first, his wife, Jean (Anna Friel). She supports him as he is coming up but eventually grows to loathe him and his freewheeling ways of women. The second, his girlfriend, Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), one of his dancers who quickly promotes herself to girlfriend. She goes along with the lifestyle for a while until one day she realizes that no one woman can satisfy Paul, and she needs a one-woman man. The third, and most important, is also closest to him in make and model, his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). Debbie gets kicked out of school and wants to shack up with Daddy, using his clubs and money to start a singing career. Debbie doesn’t have the talent to hack it, but she has quite a knack for cocaine. It isn’t explicitly addressed, but I imagine that their mutual addiction was a very strong bond in their relationship. Paul likes coke and uses it, but Debbie LOVES coke. You can probably imagine where that ends up.
Paul seemingly built his empire just to leave it for his children and grandchildren. A noble cause, but he never gives any thought to if Debbie and her daughters might actually want it. Would she be capable of running it? Or ruining it, if she were given the chance? The Look of Love isn’t interested in these questions. A pity; it might have been a more compelling piece if it was. Instead of a creative puff piece about a man and his daughter. Which is what it is.