The People vs. Larry Flynt Review

by Eric Robinette (sircritic AT aol DOT com)
January 21st, 1997

    A film review by Eric Robinette
    Copyright 1997 Eric Robinette


Starring: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; directed by Milos Forman.

"The People vs. Larry Flynt" is gross. That's why it's so great.
Okay, so the choice of words, is, well, a little blunt. But hey, since we're talking about the infamous Hustler founder who won over the Supreme Court, someone whose middle name might have been "blunt," I figure it's only appropriate.

Anyway, back to this gross thing. Things that are gross tend to be great movie subjects. Take "Vertigo," for example. It's about a man unerringly obsessed with a dead woman, "A Clockwork Orange is about a man who goes on violent sprees just for kicks. These people at heart, are really repellent, and yet, for better or worse, the audience is made to like them and side with them because we hate the forces against them worse than we do the one being maligned.

Along these lines, the fact that "Larry Flynt" very obviously sides with its hero is not, as some people have indicated, a flaw. Focusing only on the pro-and-con of free speech could be boring and obvious. In fact, I would argue that the free speech debate, while powerful, isn't the most compelling part of the movie. It was a much more impressive feat to take a repugnant character and make the audience side with him even if they might not personally like him.

First and foremost to credit in this feat are the actors. Woody Harrelson turns in a veritable tour de force that ranks, I think, as the most powerful of 1996.. As Flynt veers from smug bar owner to devout, born-again Christian to crestfallen paraplegic to defiant crusader, we see a man put through an emotional wringer that literally almost killed him. The fact he keeps standing up despite all his enemies, despite his confinement to a wheelchair, is what makes him such a compelling figure.
No less astonishing is Courtney Love as Flynt's flamboyant wife, Althea Leisure. No, it's not so surprising that she can play a scraggly, strung-out prostitute, but how sympathetic she makes her. The image of her gripping the barrier separating herself and Flynt while he's in prison burned into my memory.

And caught in the middle of this Constitutional whirlwind is that rising star Edward Norton, who remains the calm of the storm as he dazedly tries to hash out all the craziness around him and becomes the clear ringing voice in support of free speech that even repellent trash like Hustler is right to practice.

Ultimately, the tricky balancing act this movie pulls off is what makes it one of the best films of the year. I've heard people argue that it's drama, while others insist it's a comedy. A case can be made for both; after all, a movie that has about a man despised by many who gets shot and paralyzed with a wife who irrevocably spirals to doom wouldn't seem to be a barrel of laughs.

And yet the picture is acidly funny. Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who also penned "Ed Wood" have a gift for making guttural characters seem both funny and human. They have an ideal partner in director Milos Forman, who has his own gift for taking larger-than-life characters (like Mozart) and making them seem more human by revealing how humorous and vulnerable they are.

So, at heart, The People vs. Larry Flynt, is a dramatic comedy, and a great one at that. I know that it's cheating by having my cake and eating it too, but it's the best description I could come up with about this story of a man who is so gross he's fascinating.

More on 'The People vs. Larry Flynt'...

Originally posted in the newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.