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People vs. Larry Flynt

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: People vs. Larry Flynt

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love
Director: Milos Forman
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Crispin Glover, Brett Harrleson, Vincent Schiavelli, Miles Chapin, Norm MacDonald, Donna Hanover, Edward Norton, James Cromwell

Review by Andrew Hicks
4 stars out of 4

With nearly all the critics in the world calling THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT the best movie of 1996 and most major religious figures decrying it from the pulpit, this movie was top on my list of movies to see this holiday season. TURBULENCE and THE RELIC can wait, because this movie's got everyone shaken up in one way or another. The movie theater people were actually checking IDs and for this one so you know it's controversial. And yes, it is damn good.

THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT tells the fascinating true story of a low-class man's rise to fame through the exploitation of nude women. Larry Flynt, played by Woody Harrelson, is stereotypical white trash running a series of seedy strip joints when he gets the idea to publish a newsletter to promote it. The newsletter is, of course, a bunch of topless photos, and that leads to the establishment of Hustler magazine, which begins selling millions of copies an issue once it prints nude pictures of Jackie Onassis.

Hustler, like Flynt himself, is undisguised perversion. It doesn't have the pretenses of the higher-class Playboy, which tries to mix articles and interviews with the photo spreads. Hustler focuses solely on sex, and so does Flynt. It's Playboy for the common pervert -- sure there's the Playboy Mansion, but wouldn't most people rather visit the Hustler Mobile Home?

With the success of Hustler, Flynt becomes rich and influential but retains the same set of friends and associates as before. Making the journey with him is bisexual stripper Althea (Courtney Love, of Hole), who becomes his wife early in the film. Swingers that they are, though, they scoff at the notion of marriage and monogamy being interrelated. There are a couple sex scenes in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, and Love does appear in the buff many a time. Being subjected to her naked body so many times, I'm starting to get an idea of why Kurt Cobain shot himself.

With the graphic pictures and cartoons in his magazine, outcries are inevitable. Flynt goes to court three times in the movie, twice because he's being sued by the Reverend Jerry Falwell for printing a parody ad that quotes Falwell as saying he had sex with his mother in an outhouse. The court scenes are the most memorable in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, particularly the scene in which Flynt decides to get back at the system by throwing an orange at the judge and wearing the American flag as a diaper.

Life is a long, twisted trip for Mr. and Mrs. Flynt. He turns to God after much prodding from the President's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, but his outlook remains as sex-saturated and blasphemous as before. Once he is shot by an unknown sniper and ends up paralyzed from the waist down, he abandons his belief in God entirely and gets hooked on various forms of drugs, legal and illegal, to ease the pain. Althea too finds herself hooked on heroin and eventually dies of AIDS.

THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT has a compelling story that is most interesting for trying to paint Flynt as some kind of folk hero but only making him look more insane and perverse. Harrelson did a great job portraying a complicated man who has at least a small degree of mental illness, but the big acting trophy here should go to Love. I never would have pegged her as someone who would make the transition from music video to movies so successfully on the first try.

The movie depicts a lot of depravity and is uncomfortable to watch at times, but still brings with it a very powerful and very true theme -- that the First Amendment of the United States should provide freedom of expression for everyone. Defining obscenity is difficult and undeniably subjective, but as this movie points out, outlawing one form of speech could lead to the outlawing of other forms. Flynt may not be the picture perfect messenger but the message is at the heart of American freedom.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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