People vs. Larry Flynt [1996]

Leave it to Czech director Milos Forman (One Flew Over to Cuckoo's Nest) to make the most entertaining and offbeat celebration of the American Constitution that the movies have ever given us. You think the First Amendment was designed to protect you from offensive speech? Think again. The real glory of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--as brought to life in this splendidly quirky and alternately reverent and irreverent comedy--is that it ensures everyone's freedom by protecting a whole range of expression, from the banal to the outrageous. Scripted by the writers of Ed Wood (another affectionately twisted biography of a disreputably eccentric entertainment figure), The People vs. Larry Flynt applies a similar sort of exaggerated and telescoped editorial-cartoon sensibility to the wild life and times of Hustler skin-magazine publisher Larry Flynt. It's the great (and fictionalized-but-true) American story of how smut-peddler Flynt--the poor man's redneck Hugh Hefner--ended up appealing a libel case (brought by televangelist Jerry Falwell) to the Supreme Court and winning a major legal victory that affects us all. Terrific performances by Woody Harrelson as Flynt, grunge-star-turned-glamour-puss Courtney Love as his wife Althea, and Edward Norton as their lawyer (a composite character). --Jim Emerson

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