Appeals Court Bounces Defamation Suit Against American Hustle Over Microwave Scene

from the rad dept

Nearly two years ago, we wrote about a bonkers lawsuit against the makers of the film American Hustle, brought by a journalist who used to make remarks about what microwaves do to the food we eat. The lawsuit was essentially over Jennifer Lawrence's character, who had been built up in the film as a complete know-nothing whack-job, misinterpreting a historical article by Paul Brodeur in the film. This kind of thing is not remotely actionable, and such portrayals are not only protected against the libel and defamation claims Brodeur made by that pesky First Amendment thing we have, but in the context of the film there was simply zero chance of Brodeur suffering any harm from an insane character's misunderstanding of his article's position. I took the time to write about it because the idea of someone suing over this is hilarious, but the court forced to listen to this insanity couldn't take the same snarky position I did.

So instead, when a California appeals court tossed the lawsuit entirely, it had to keep a straight face to explain its reasoning.

On Monday, California appeals court justice Elizabeth Grimes came to the conclusion that Brodeur's defamation complaint is unlikely to be successful and must be stricken as an impingement of producers' First Amendment rights.

Judge Grimes' opinion patiently lays out its reasoning, citing that Brodeurs' views on whether nutrition is removed by microwaving food was not actually all that clear at the time the film was produced, that this question was indeed a matter of public interest during the time of the film's setting, oh, and also the whole film is a farce and the character is crazy-pants, so why are you bringing this before the court to begin with?

"American Hustle is, after all, a farce. The stage was set at the beginning of the film. (‘Some of this actually happened,’ is the line that appears on screen to start things off, and it sets the tone perfectly.”) The character who utters the allegedly defamatory statement is portrayed throughout the movie as 'slightly unhinged' and 'a font of misinformation,' and Irving and Rosalyn both refer to the microwave oven as the 'science oven.' We doubt any audience member would perceive any of Rosalyn’s dialogue as assertions of objective fact."

Except maybe Paul Brodeur? Regardless, even in this unholy era we live in, in which anyone can sue anyone for anything, with a particularly lenient nod towards libel and publicity laws, this entire lawsuit was every bit as farcical as the film it had sued over. Free speech does matter, after all, and it may matter most in protecting art.

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Filed Under: american hustle, defamation, fiction, first amendment, free speech, jennifer laurence, paul brodeur


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