'American Hustle' Producers Can't Nuke Defamation Lawsuit

Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle Set - H 2014
Courtesy of Sony

Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle Set - H 2014

Paul Brodeur, a science writer who claims he was defamed by something Jennifer Lawrence said in David O. Russell's 2013 film American Hustle, has survived an attempt to knock out his $1 million lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.

In the movie, Lawrence plays a character named Rosalyn who tells her husband, played by Christian Bale, that microwaves take the nutrition out of food. After Bale's character responds, "That's bullshit," Rosalyn shows him a magazine and says, "It's not bullshit. I read it in an article. Look, by Paul Brodeur."

Brodeur says that during the late 1970s, when the film took place, he was giving interviews proclaiming that food cooked by microwaves was safe. He feels his reputation has been damaged in the community, analogizing what would happened if someone misquoted Stephen Jay Gould as saying that God created the Earth six thousand years ago or if someone misquoted Carl Sagan as saying that the sun revolves around the Earth.

In defense of the lawsuit, Columbia Pictures, Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures brought an anti-SLAPP motion that argued that the objectionable activity furthered their free speech on a matter of public interest, and that they were likely to win the case because the character of Rosalyn was an unreliable character. "Reasonable persons would recognize that they are watching a 'screwball comedy' in which nothing the Rosalyn character says can be taken as fact," argued the defendants' lawyer Louis Petrich in a written brief submitted a week ago.

Brodeur's lawyer Leon Friedman submitted, in turn, that a "ditzy defense" was faulty. "What the defense means is that any time a publisher or movie company wants to defame a living person, all they have to do is present a 'ditzy' person who can say anything about that person without any concern for possible legal action in the future," he wrote. "The 'ditzy' defense cannot be decided at this stage of the proceeding. It is up to a jury to make such a determination."

On Wednesday, the parties appeared before L.A. Superior Court judge Terry Green for oral arguments on the anti-SLAPP motion.

The record reflects that the judge has denied the producers' attempt to strike the lawsuit, meaning it will proceed. A written opinion isn't yet available, but we'll update later with the judge's analysis.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner