Larry Flynt has a convincing argument for nearly everything. To his long-suffering lawyer who’s threatening to quit, Flynt give three reasons why he shouldn’t: “I’m fun, I’m rich and I’m always in trouble.”
To a journalist who wants to know why Flynt’s often outrageous behaviour should be tolerated, he says, “Because I’m the worst.”
Has there been a more unlikely symbol of the freedom of expression? Larry Flynt, the publisher of the American pornographic magazine Hustler, took the fight for his right to unfettered speech all the way to his country’s Supreme Court. In 1996, Milos Forman turned Flynt’s central argument – every American, even a publisher of salacious pornography, must be allowed to say whatever they please – into the hugely entertaining absurdist comedy The People vs. Larry Flynt. The film is being streamed on Apple TV+.
Woody Harrelson brilliantly portrays the hustler behind Hustler who balances the commercial possibilities of carnality with an astute understanding of America’s more pressing problems. Harrelson plays Flynt with unabashed flamboyance and unexpected warmth.
Written with wit and intelligence by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Dolemite is My Name), the biopic traces Flynt’s transformation from strip club owner into a successful competitor to Playboy and Penthouse. Flynt’s assaults on public morality attract a series of lawsuits. His disregard for authority earns him contempt-of-court notices. A media circus turns serious when an attack by a sniper leaves Flynt semi-paralysed.
What’s worse, nudies or war, Larry Flynt rhetorically asks in his defence. Another way of asking the question is, so what if we can see a movie star’s bum? Flynt might have had a big laugh at musician Yashraj Mukhate’s hilarious spoof on the Ranveer Singh nude photo shoot kerfuffle.
Did Milos Forman see in Larry Flynt a kindred spirit? Forman was one of the leading figures of the Czech New Wave in the 1960s. He left the former Czechoslovakia after his political satire The Fireman’s Ball was banned (the film resurfaced only years later). Forman struck gold in Hollywood with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, and went on to make a series of well-regarded films in a range of styles.
In The People vs. Larry Flynt, Flynt’s outre behaviour is delivered with just the right amount of slyness. Forman’s skill with actors yields lovely performances by Courtney Love, as Flynt’s supportive wife Althea, and Edward Norton as Flynt’s loyal lawyer.