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Film / The People vs. Larry Flynt

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"Murder is illegal, but if you take a picture of it you may get your name in a magazine or maybe win a Pulitzer Prize. However, sex is legal, but if you take a picture of that act, you can go to jail."
Larry Flynt

The People vs. Larry Flynt is a 1996 biopic directed by Miloš Forman about Larry Flynt, the founder of Hustler magazine. Woody Harrelson stars as Flynt, with a supporting cast that includes Courtney Love, Edward Norton, and James Cromwell.

The film begins with him as a young boy selling moonshine to hillbillies and ends with him hearing about the outcome of his Supreme Court case. Along the way, the virtues and downsides of organized religion, pornography, capitalism and free speech are explored. It is the second of screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's trilogy of Biopics of "anti-Great Men," after Ed Wood and before Man on the Moon, about Andy Kaufman.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Actor (Harrelson) and Best Director (Forman).

"The Tropes Vs. Larry Flynt":

  • Adaptation Expansion: Due to Althea not making it to the end, and the extra expense needed to insure Courtney Love, the writers gave her a LOT to do in the movie in order to get as much use of her as possible.
  • Amoral Attorney: Inverted: Most of the lawyers, even Isaacman, are against Flynt's erratic public behavior. Isaacman forces Larry into following decorum to remain his counsel.
    • Charles Keating is a straighter example, as he would be one of the central figures in the S&L scandal of the 1980s.
  • As Himself: A doctor and a bodyguard who took care of Flynt in real life do the same on-screen here.
  • Anything That Moves: Althea possibly.
  • Bedlam House: Larry has to stay in one for fifteen months after an outburst in court gets him declared insane by the judge.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Larry to Jimmy Flynt.
  • Big Fancy House: Larry's home in Cincinnati is nice, but his Los Angeles home is the paragon of this trope.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Larry wins his big court case against Falwell at the Supreme Court...but he doesn't have Althea to share it with him.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: According to The Shooting Script, when the Real Life Larry Flynt found out about the movie, he met with the writers to go over the script as it was at that point. His objections qualified for this.
    "I would never say 'Jim Dandy'. I never served biscuits and molasses at the Club. The Jackie O issue went to three printings, not four. I never depicted Bestiality."
  • Composite Character: Edward Norton plays a character named Alan Isaacman, after the lawyer who defended Flynt before the Supreme Court. This character essentially stands in for all the legal assistants Flynt had employed. For instance, he is depicted being wounded in the 1978 shooting attack on Flynt; that event happened to Gene Reeves, Jr.
  • Courtroom Antics: Larry offers plenty of courtroom antics, including going to the courtroom with the American flag as a diaper! It later gets to be too much, though, and no decent self-respecting law, judge or court is willing to take on his case.
  • Creator Cameo: Flynt himself plays a judge. The screenwriters also have brief appearances.
  • Doomed by Canon: Althea, since Canon here is Real Life.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Not "bad" exactly but Larry never lets his unashamed sleaziness and opportunism get in the way of being a loving son who who cares deeply about his parents and eagerly uses his wealth to provide for them. A deleted scene even had him show them he had an exact replica of the house he grew up in built in his new mansion because he never wanted to forget where he came from.
  • Fat Bastard: Jerry Falwell, big time. He becomes the film's Final Boss.
  • Gargle Blaster: Larry's home brewed moonshine.
  • George Jetson Job Security:
    • Larry fires his staff over the phone from a mental hospital. They think he's just angry, or not in his right mind, so they keep right on working. When he returns, he's glad to see them.
    • After he come back from his drugged up stupor in 1982, Larry fires the vice president in charge of marketing who was telling him about President Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and how it had shifted their business plan.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Played very straight in the hot tub scene.
    • In the strip club, every time the curtains open between acts, a woman on a swing is seen. Occasionally she has another woman with her, in erotic postures.
  • Good is Not Nice: Larry himself freely admits that he's a sleazebag, but the movie clearly positions him on the right side of the debate, as opposed to the self-righteous (and hypocritical) puritans he opposes.
  • Happier Home Movie: After one of the reporters asks Larry if he has any regrets, he lets them know he only has one — then the scene cuts to him watching these.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The movie version of Flynt is considerably more attractive than the real life version ever was.
  • Hollywood Drowning: Averted.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Althea subverts the normal use of this trope.
  • Hypocrite: The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue makes a point of noting some of the less-than-savoury aspects of Larry's self-righteous political and Moral Guardian opponents, specifically Charles Keating.
  • Idea Bulb: According to The Shooting Script, the scene where Larry figures out the best way to photograph a woman's vagina was meant by the writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, as a parody of the traditional biopic "lightbulb-over-the-head" moment.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Used to argumentative effect during a speech Larry makes about why what he does shouldn't be illegal as photos and scenes of violence and sex play are interspersed in the background.
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: Oddly enough this argument is never made specifically, it is simply discussed that although disgusting it should be allowed under the freedom of speech clause.
  • Kangaroo Court: In Larry's first trial, evidence in favor of Flint is denied, specifically magazines with similar content as Hustler. The judge also sentences him to 25 years and denies bail. Subverted in Larry's later trials, when the judges are clearly more frustrated by Flynt's appalling behavior, a retaliation for his earlier mistreatment. Larry lets the judge (played by Flynt himself) have it at the end of his first trial.
    Larry: Your honor, you have not made one intelligent decision during the course of this trial and I don't expect one now: knock yourself out.
  • Kavorka Man: Larry. While he's not unattractive, he's an unashamed sleazebag whose accident and subsequent self-imposed isolation makes him nearly impossible to be around. Nonetheless, he never has an issue attracting beautiful women, even well before he becomes a millionaire.
  • Little "No": Larry's response to being asked to take an oath in court. It's leads to a Big "NO!" from the judge wondering why and Larry explains that as an atheist, an oath to God means nothing to him. The judge just shakes his head and asks him to affirm instead, which Larry agrees to.
  • Loophole Abuse: Ain't no rule that says Larry can't post bail by having two hookers bring garbage bags full of cash into a courtroom. The judge has the money accepted, but specifically warns Flynt that he expects future payments to be handled through the usual cashier's check.
  • Los Angeles: "I oughta move somewhere, where perverts are welcome." Answer Cut to the Hollywood sign, being prominently featured, as this might also be seen as Biting-the-Hand Humor.
  • Magazine Decay: Invoked In-Universe. Apparently takes over every time Larry goes to jail, as well as during his brief conversion to evangelical Christianity, and when he comes back after five years of isolation after getting shot.
  • Money Fetish: Hinted at: Althea as she totals his sales figures and then requests that Larry take off his pants, explaining that she's never fucked a millionaire before. On the one hand, they were a couple before he made that much money; on the other, it's only after he's rich that she offers up marriage as a possibility. On a third hand, Larry is initially surprised - because he thinks she's suggesting monogamy, which both agree is very much not on the cards.
  • Moral Guardians: Jerry Falwell and Charles Keating play this part in the movie as well as arguably in real life.
  • Naughty Nuns: After being put in a Catholic orphanage after her father killed his wife then himself, Althea, as in real life, claims she was forced to sexually pleasure the nuns running it.
  • News Monopoly: Flynt, with multiple TVs, turns them all on to different channels, and when he finds out they're all focused on what's going on at his house, lets out a war whoop of joy.
    Larry:"I turned the whole world into a tabloid!"
  • Not So Above It All: Miles is a loyal member of Larry's editorial staff but rather WASP and not personally into the Hustler lifestyle (evidently to Althea's disdain). But when Larry returns and fires the Blow-dried Moral Majority Reaganite, Miles is clearly delighted.
  • Nouveau Riche: Althea plays this trope up when Larry and her have dinner with Ruth Carter Stapleton.
  • Off to See the Wizard: Althea suggests a feature of The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion gangbanging Dorothy.
  • Paying in Coins: Flynt paid a $10,000 contempt-of-court fine by having two hookers bring garbage bags full of one dollar bills into the courtroom.
  • Prison: The setting a few times as Larry is ok with getting sent there to prove his points about Freedom of Speech.
  • Polyamory: When Althea asks Larry if they can get married, he initially rejects the idea but then Althea lets him know that it's ok if they get married but aren't monogamous, at which point he agrees.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Larry wins his case against Rev. Jerry Falwell and has his place in history. Unfortunately, he doesn't have his true love, Althea.
  • Rags to Riches: Larry grows up in poverty, selling moonshine to make money for his family, and later becomes an enormously wealthy entreprenuer.
  • Real Person Cameo: Larry Flynt portrays Judge Morrissey.
  • Really Dead Montage: At the very end, the camera pans through the home and over paintings of Althea, with her ghostly laughter echoing through the rooms, until we see Larry watching films of her.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Supreme Court Justices, who press Isaacman on how the Constitution protects obscenity, and rule in his favor when he gives a decent answer.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alan finally has had it with Larry and lets him have it about how his irreverent behaviour has isolated him from decent people and for expecting the legal system to come to his aid while never showing it any respect. It hits hard enough for Larry to give a proper defense on freedom.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: One of Larry's primary ways of dealing with the US Court system as well as many other aspects of life.
  • Stock Legal Phrases: When a good deal of the movie occurs in the courts, with the dialogue taken from transcripts of Larry's various court appearances, these are inevitable. At least one is averted when Larry refuses to "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" as he has recently become an Atheist.
  • Take That!: In-Universe, everything Larry does when he comes back in 1983 is meant as a retaliation against the U.S. Government, Moral Guardians, and anyone else he can think of due to his frustration with how there was no investigation of his getting shot back in 1978. The Campari ad parody with Jerry Falwell is the pinnacle.
  • Versus Title
  • Young Entrepreneur: The film starts with Larry and his brother bottling and selling homemade moonshine at the respective ages of 10 and 8.