January 10, 1997 in Seven

You Have A Right To See ‘The People Vs. Larry Flynt’

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

I admired Hustler publisher Larry Flynt from afar in “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” and that’s about as close as I want to get to him.

Milos Forman’s free-wheeling, funny film details Flynt’s rise from backwoods yokel to X-rated media kingpin. Flynt’s nudie magazine repeatedly landed him in the slammer, but he believed that a picture is worth a thousand days in jail, so Flynt’s fight to gross out America inadvertently became a fight to keep America free.

The movie gives Flynt too much credit - I’m certainly not convinced the smutmeister has any true commitment to the Constitution. But it’s a kick to see a movie arguing so forcefully for an idea that is currently unpopular: that we must defend the rights of people with whom we disagree. In the end, it doesn’t matter why Flynt championed First Amendment rights. The point is that he did it and that, spread-eagled centerfolds notwithstanding, it was a patriotic fight.

Flynt is a fascinating guy, trapped at an early stage of development so that he never got beyond his obsession with body parts and poop. As depicted here, Flynt is so single-mindedly dirty that you can’t help liking him. Woody Harrelson makes Flynt the genial, leering center of this surprisingly good-natured movie.

Much of the credit for “Larry Flynt” goes to Forman, the Czech expatriate who seems to see America more clearly than anyone else.

He’s terrific at finding humor and light in troubling material and he has incredible casting instincts: political adviser James Carville turns up as a Bible-pounding lawyer, Flynt himself plays a judge, New York mayor Rudy Guiliani’s wife, Donna Hanover, plays Ruth Carter Stapleton, and Courtney Love can now add “actress” to “singer” and “professional widow” on her resume.

Thin as a cigarette, Love makes Flynt’s stripper wife, Althea, a screwy, sweet presence who’s usually stoned out of her mind.

Like a Preston Sturges movie, the strength of “Larry Flynt” is its characters. The movie covers a lot of ground and, inevitably, it loses track of some subplots.

What became of Flynt’s religious conversion? How did he keep getting out of jail? Who ran his empire when he was hepped up on pain killers? Many plot points fall through the cracks of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” but it’s a bracing reminder that an important idea almost always starts with someone who goes too far.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “THE PEOPLE vs. LARRY FLYNT” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Milos Forman, starring Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love Running time: 2:10 Rating: R

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The People vs. Larry Flynt:” Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: In its excesses and extravagances, its fascination with sex, religion, celebrity, bad taste and making a whole lot of money, there is no more American story than that of combative pornographer and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Sinners make for better stories than saints, which goes a long way toward explaining why the first half of “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” is a lot better than the second. William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Of all the entries so far in Oliver Stone’s ongoing cycle of docudrama chronicles of the ‘60s and their aftermath, his new film, “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” is the best. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Above all, the film emerges as an object lesson in open-mindedness, winning a reluctant respect for its main character’s right to crude self-expression just as Flynt has won his days in court.

This sidebar appeared with the story: “THE PEOPLE vs. LARRY FLYNT” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Milos Forman, starring Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love Running time: 2:10 Rating: R

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The People vs. Larry Flynt:” Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times: In its excesses and extravagances, its fascination with sex, religion, celebrity, bad taste and making a whole lot of money, there is no more American story than that of combative pornographer and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: Sinners make for better stories than saints, which goes a long way toward explaining why the first half of “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” is a lot better than the second. William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Of all the entries so far in Oliver Stone’s ongoing cycle of docudrama chronicles of the ‘60s and their aftermath, his new film, “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” is the best. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Above all, the film emerges as an object lesson in open-mindedness, winning a reluctant respect for its main character’s right to crude self-expression just as Flynt has won his days in court.


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