Based on a true story of the notorious Hustler publisher who was sued by the Religious Right and paralyzed by a fanatic’s bullet, The People vs. Larry Flint is a stranger-than-fiction comedy about one man’s outrageous public persona and eccentric private life. The film chronicles Flynt’s raunchy business savvy, his wildly unconventional marriage and his infamous courtroom antics.
Two time Oscar winner Director Milos Forman (Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) directs Woddy Harrelson, Courtney Love, and Edward Norton.
eyelights: Ed Norton. Woody Harrelson. Courtney Love. its blend of drama and humour.
eyesores: its creative licences.
“All I’m guilty of, is bad taste!”
I’ve perused the pages of ‘Hustler’ magazine. Back in my day (i.e. before online porn!), we young lads would do anything to get our dirty mitts on porn magazines.
Any porn magazine.
It didn’t matter what it was. We just wanted to see hot nakedness. Sometimes that meant going to the library and sneaking looks at human sexuality books.
Sometimes it meant picking up ‘Hustler’.
It wasn’t just ‘Hustler’, of course. It was also ‘Playboy’, ‘Penthouse’, ‘Cheri’ and ‘Club International’. We always found ways to get them. Surreptitiously, of course.
‘Playboy’ had the prettiest models, often “girl next door” types that broke your heart. But, damn, there were a lot of articles about crap we didn’t care about.
‘Penthouse’ was an early staple, with plenty of naughtiness, a few funny cartoons, and sexy Penthouse Letters. Even the ads were worth a peak. We were fans.
But ‘Hustler’ broke our minds. Is was naughty as all get out and it didn’t mince words; we didn’t have to flip through 40 pages of text to get to the “good stuff”.
Of course, we couldn’t get ‘Hustler’ as easily. Unlike ‘Playboy’ and ‘Penthouse’, which were much more commonplace, ‘Hustler’ was out of reach. Getting one was a treat.
A very naughty treat.
I’ll always remember something that my dad told me one day about erotica versus porn. My dad never spoke about sex, so the two times he did really stuck with me.
He said that to him ‘Playboy’ exemplified erotica, whereas ‘Penthouse’ was the model of porn. And you know what? I understood. To me, that distinction was clear.
God… I wonder what he would have thought of ‘Hustler’?
‘Hustler’ was the brainchild of enfant terrible Larry Flynt, of course. A Kentuckian from one of the poorest counties in the nation, Flynt clawed his way out of the dirt the only way an uneducated young man could: bootlegging and bar managing. He eventually started Hustler magazine, where he made his fortune.
Where he made his reputation, though, was in his legal wranglings; under constant scrutiny of the law and morality police, he frequently found himself in court defending his right to publish the content of his raunchy magazine. He eagerly took on the mantle of First Amendment rights activist in the process.
‘The People vs Larry Flynt’ tells that story. Released in 1996, the multiple award-winning Miloš Forman motion picture stars Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt, Ed Norton as Alan Isaacman, Flynt’s brilliant lawyer and friend, and Courtney Love as Althea Leasure, Flynt’s longtime love and business partner.
I saw the picture for my 24th birthday based on the acclaim alone; though I wasn’t especially intrigued by Flynt’s life and antics, the critical reception to Forman’s film was phenomenal. Most surprisingly, Courtney Love was being touted as a potential Golden Globe winner. Courtney Love, of all people!
I just had to see it!
‘TPVLF’ was a winner on all count, and it remains one to this day. It succinctly tells Flynt’s story, and though it skips a lot of its titular bad boy’s backstory, it retains just enough of it to feel relatively complete – unlike most docudramas, there is no sense that we’re missing out or that there are major lapses.
Of course, part of the reason may be that Larry Flynt’s story is only significant in some areas, that we wouldn’t really want to know more about the man. I mean, you’d want to know all about Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or Malcolm X, right? But just how much of Larry Flynt is it possible to take in one single movie?
Thankfully, Woody Harrelson is up to the task of making Flynt a watchable personage. Though I’d never been enamoured with the actor, whose claim to fame was playing a goofy sap in ‘Cheers‘, he is very good at humanizing “white trash”, making Flynt likeable and deliriously wacky enough that you can get over his crudity.
Courtney Love is also surprisingly effective as Althea, though she’d probably have been overshadowed by a much more dramatic or comedic actor. Many actresses were considered for the part, but it’s hard to imagine anyone better in the role than Love, who seems at home playing a hyper-sexual, self-destructive person.
The icing on the cake, though, is Ed Norton, who had stolen the show in ‘Primal Fear’ that very year and who would bowl people over in ‘American History X’ two years later. His interpretation of Isaacman leaps off the screen, mixing up intellect, sensitivity, compassion and playfulness in the most potent of ways.
While the rest of the cast is also very good, it’s these three actors who make ‘The People vs Larry Flynt’ successful. The story is certainly interesting, but had Bill Murray or Tom Hanks played Flynt, it wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling. If Cameron Diaz or Ashley Judd had been Althea, the balance would have been skewed.
And, well, without Norton, the trio would have had no gravitas.
Ultimately, ‘The People vs Larry Flynt’ is a fascinating and entertaining look at what should be an unsavoury character. Instead, in Forman’s hands he turns out to be an enjoyable goofball – enough so that you can’t help but sympathize with him when he’s devastated by various tragedies. You actually care.
And that’s saying quite a lot given that Larry Flynt was always controversial and remains so to this day. People like him are hard to accept, let alone appreciate; they get in everyone else’s face and state their cases rudely, defiantly and unrepentantly. But, irrespective of what his views are, here you end up on his side.
Without feeling hustled.
Date of viewing: November 11, 2016