American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In "The Look of Love," a new biopic about British pornographer Paul Raymond, director Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh modestly defy the narrative conventions that they themselves use. While its creators don't go far enough to deflate their protagonist's ego, it's a smarter-than-average rise-and-fall narrative.
Winterbottom and Greenhalgh only seem to go easy on Raymond (inspired comedian Steve Coogan) because their film is told from Raymond's perspective. He's presented as a self-absorbed man who has spent all of his life in the public eye refusing to be introspective. Raymond puts on a show whenever interviewed by tabloid journalists. He over-uses anecdotal catchphrases like, "Not bad for a boy from Liverpool that came here with only five bob in his pocket," and insists that no press is bad press. Raymond also refuses to admit that he is a pornographer, even if he owns several strip clubs, finances all-nude theatrical revues, and distributes a Playboy-type magazine called Men Only.
But throughout "The Look of Love," Raymond thinks back to the events that led to his daughter's suicide. In the film's opening scene, he's asked by a mob of journos why his daughter Deborah (Imogen Poots) was unhappy. It's the one time Raymond's caught off-guard in the film, and he never recovers from it. Instead, he spends the rest of the film blankly replaying events in his head. At this point, Raymond is the richest man in England. But, as the film banally concludes, he only made so much money because he blithely broke off any and all emotional entanglements in his life.
Raymond's tabloid-friendly life is treated as more of a tragedy than a comedy. So in a weird way, it's fitting that scenes that remind us that we're watching a series of flashbacks aren't really important. When he stares off into space, Winterbottom and Greenhalgh remind us that this is Raymond's story as told by their version of Raymond. The vacant look on Coogan's face during these brief scenes suggests that Raymond isn't really reflecting on his mistakes. According to Winterbottom and Greenhalgh, this is as close to introspection as Paul Raymond will get. That conceit makes the film's anti-materialist coda even more heavy-handed, slamming Raymond for wanting to be England's Hugh Hefner.