A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Movie explores the importance of free speech in a functioning democracy, and how if one voice, however controversial, is silenced, it can create a chilling effect.
Positive Role Models
In this biopic, Larry Flynt is a self-described "scumbag," and as he more or less lives up to this term as a purveyor of raunchy pornography, he's also revealed to be a fearless and uncompromising defender of the First Amendment, facing fines and incarceration for obscenity charges for the images and content of Hustler Magazine. Flynt's wife Alithea often appears drunk, stumbling and slurring her words.
Violence & Scariness
Flynt wakes up his drunken father by throwing a moonshine jug at his head; when the father wakes up, he chases Larry and his brother with a rifle. Flynt and his lawyer survive an assassination attempt in which Flynt is left paralyzed from the waist down. During a heated argument, Flynt slaps his wife. During a slide show, Flynt attempts to contrast the sexual images for which he was charged with obscenity with violent imagery: dead bodies, African American slaves with whip scars on their backs, Holocaust imagery, etc. In one scene, Alethia Flynt discusses how, as a child, she witnessed the shooting death of her family by a relative, had to identify the bodies, and then was sent to an orphanage where she was abused by nuns.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Female nudity at strip clubs, posing for photographers, in the pages of Hustler Magazine, at wild parties. A reader of the magazine makes a double entendre reference to masturbation. When they first meet at Flynt's strip club, Alethia informs him that he's not the only one who has slept with all of the strippers. The movie discusses the obscenity trial that went to the Supreme Court in which Jerry Falwell sued Flynt for a satirical ad in Hustler for an alcoholic drink that says that Falwell had sex with his mother in an outhouse.
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Regular profanity. "F--k," "motherf---er," "s--t," "bulls--t," "d--k," "ass," "balls." Middle finger gesture. During a trial, Flynt shows up to court wearing a t-shirt that reads, "F--k This Court."
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Products & Purchases
Salem cigarette advertisement. Hustler Magazine is prominently featured throughout.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Movie graphically shows heroin and prescription drug addiction. Alethia Flynt shown with track marks, often appears high -- stumbling and barely coherent. FBI surveillance video shows a drug deal involving cocaine; cocaine shown being snorted. Marijuana smoking. Beer, wine, and alcohol drinking. Flynt is shown as a boy distilling and selling moonshine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The People Vs. Larry Flynt is a 1996 biopic about the infamous pornographer and his First Amendment courtroom battles. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of sexual content throughout the film. Women are shown nude in the pages of Hustler Magazine, and also during photo shoots and in the strip club Flynt owned before starting the magazine. When Flynt (played by Woody Harrelson) first meets his soon-to-be wife Alethia when she starts working at the strip club, she tells him, "You're not the only one who has slept with all of the dancers." Alethia (played by Courtney Love) is often high on prescription drugs and heroin, with track marks clearly visible on her arms. Larry Flynt is also shown struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs in the aftermath of getting shot by a would-be assassin. Flynt and his lawyer (played by Edward Norton) are shown getting shot in an assassination attempt. There's frequent profanity, including "f--k" and "motherf---er." Flynt's court case that ultimately winds up in the Supreme Court concerns a parody alcohol ad he placed in Hustler in which the televangelist Jerry Falwell is said to have had sexual relations with his mother in an outhouse. While the movie doesn't shy away from the crass, vulgar, and seedier aspects of the life of Larry Flynt, a self-described "scumbag," the movie also shows how Flynt came to be a passionate and uncompromising defender of free speech, someone who chose incarceration over kowtowing to those who tried to censor him. The biggest takeaway is the idea that if Flynt's freedom of speech and expression could be taken away, it would create a chilling ripple effect that could easily extend to stifling criticism of public figures and politicians. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This film has stood the test of time, and not just because it's message of protecting freedom of speech has clear relevance to today. Milos Forman's focused and assured direction strikes the difficult balance between not pulling any punches when getting into the sleazier aspects of Flynt's career, and the very serious overarching theme of the movie -- that the right to free speech even applies to self-described "scumbags" like Flynt.
It's interesting to watch The People Vs. Larry Flynt now, as these debates have long since left the pages of pornographic magazines and come into the toxic discourse of the internet and social media. In a time of "deep fakes," hate speech, misinformation campaigns, and real news dismissed as "fake," this movie provokes deep thought and reflection on the continued battle between free speech and censorship, the line between "vulgarity" and "decency," and the different ways we define these terms across the political spectrum. It's entertaining on its own terms, but the true greatness of The People Vs Larry Flynt is in its ability to entertain while also organically conveying this debate through the story.
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