A Microwave Expert Is Suing ‘American Hustle’ Over The ‘Science Oven’ Scene

This morning I got an email alert from TMZ saying “‘American Hustle’ Sued by Microwave Expert … They Nuked My Reputation!,” and my bow tie still hasn’t stopped spinning. Surprisingly, the offending scene isn’t the one where Jennifer Lawrence almost burns the house down by putting metal in the science oven. It’s actually the one where she holds up a magazine article about the dangers of science ovens.

Jennifer Lawrence’s character Roslyn tells her husband, Irving, played by Christian Bale, that microwaves take the nutrition out of food. “That’s bullsh*t,” Irving replies, and his wife shows him a magazine and says, “It’s not bullsh*t. I read it in an article. Look, by Paul Brodeur.”

Paul Brodeur is a real guy, and he claims he never wrote that, so now he’s suing. Which obviously raises the question – can one be defamed by a fictional character?

The real Brodeur is a science journalist who was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly 40 years. He’s even written books (such as The Zapping of America) about the dangers of microwave radiation. But he’s never said that they take the nutrition out of food, he claims in a new lawsuit.

In the complaint, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Brodeur claims that by attributing to him a “scientifically unsupportable statement,” the filmmakers have damaged his reputation. “The scene from the movie American Hustle where the defamatory statement was made is highly offensive to a reasonable person,” the complaint states. Brodeur is alleging libel, defamation, slander and false light, and he claims to have suffered $1 million in damages. [THR]

What a bombshell. “The Zappening,” I like to call this lawsuit. But again, the difficulty here is going to be proving that a character in a movie saying something makes the filmmakers liable for defamation. Is that a thing? Because I can imagine future complaints sounding a tad schizophrenic. “Dear Sir or Madame: I found the statements falsely attributed to me by Spider-Man defamatory, repugnant, and more than a little bit spaghetti.”

Separating the creator’s voice from the character’s is a common issue. Take David Edelstein’s Birdman review, for instance (slight spoiler alert):

I admit that “Birdman,” which carries the subtitle or the unexpected virtue of ignorance, didn’t endear me with its nasty jabs at critics. The low point is a scene with a smug New York Times chief drama critic played by Lindsay Duncan. She pens her reviews improbably in a theater district bar, and tells Riggan that sight unseen, she’ll destroy his show because he’s a movie star, as if critics these days aren’t delighted along with everyone else to see film actors test themselves on stage and fill houses. But I actually do agree with Inarritu that a lot of critics are intellectual peons. How else to explain the rave reviews he got for the pretend depths of his movies “21 Grams” and “Babel” and “Biutiful”?

ZING! Any exaggeration for a joke, but… did Iñarritu actually say that a lot of critics are intellectual peons? I’m pretty sure Riggan Thompson said it. To a critic who exists in a fictional world built partly or wholly out of Thompson’s mind. Does Iñarritu agree with Thompson’s rant about critics? Maybe? Partly? Sometimes? But really, who cares? The more important point is that it felt to me like a believable thing for that character to say at that moment in the fictional world of Birdman (which differs from our world in countless ways, starting with the talking Bird Man).

Or, as a friend recently put it: