Prolific jack-of-all-genres Michael Winterbottom is consistently inconsistent. For my money, he does best with real world verite (“In this World,” “A Mighty Heart,” “The Road to Guantanamo”) but he also has a flair for British comedy, often starring his go-to man Steve Coogan (“Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” “The Trip”). The movie that “The Look of Love,” which Winterbottom debuted at Sundance Saturday, most resembles is “24 Hour Party People,” also starring Coogan, but it isn’t nearly as entertaining, despite the surfeit of swinging sex and drugs that a biopic of Brit billionaire pornographer, strip club impresario and real estate mogul Paul Raymond demands.
Coogan wanted to play Raymond, who was declared by the Sunday Times as Britain’s richest man in 1992–the same year that his 36-year-old daughter (Imogen Poots) died of a heroin overdose. But Coogan does not pull us inside this crass and callow man, much less make us feel bad for him; he brings his own misery. My hunch is that this stylishly made movie will play much better in the UK than stateside, where we’re already saturated with the exploits of our own Hugh Heffner and Larry Flynt.
The movie is hardly the most daring of the sexually explicit movies on display at Sundance this year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his debut as writer-director with “Don Jon’s Addiction,” a New York area blue collar comedy in the vein of “Saturday Night Fever” in which JGL’s version of Tony Manero is a bartender who hangs with his posse at clubs on the prowl for high-rated pussy (her face is a 9, her tits are a 4 etc.) Scarlett Johannson is first-rate as a Jersey babe looking for a Mr. Right who will do things her way (take night classes, meet the parents). But nothing is as good as online porn–and that’s what comes between them. Older fellow student Julianne Moore, on the other hand, is more understanding.
At the press conference, Gordon-Levitt admitted that he was proud of himself for finally finishing his screenplay and directing his first feature. But he has a lot to learn. He goes too broad with the Jersey accents with his family, as he and father Tony Danza sit around in wifebeaters. Brie Larson is excellent in a virtually silent role as his texting sister.
JGL wanted to explore issues of sexual objectification and the barriers between men and women. He’s a talented guy with a spectacular future, but this movie misses the mark.