Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Movie Review: "The Most Hated Woman in America" (2017)

Director: Tommy O'Haver
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

The story of Atheist rights activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and the events which led to the tragic end of her life. 

"The Most Hated Woman in America" is written and directed by Tommy O'Haver, who is known for directing such films as "Get Over It" and "Ella Enchanted." It stars Melissa Leo as Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of the group American Atheist. She is the titular "Most Hated Woman in America" due to her efforts in fighting for Atheist rights and to keep prayer out public schools, among many other things that pissed off the religious right in the 1960's. Joining Leo in this biopic are Brandon Mychal Smith, Josh Lucas, Michael Chernus, Juno Temple, Adam Scott, Rory Cochrane, Vincent Kartheiser, and Alex Frost.

The purpose of this film is to glance back on Madalyn's life and examine her tragic death. We personally knew very little about this movie going into it, and we knew even less about its protagonist. We learn quickly she was an outspoken nonbeliever with an abrasive personality and a penchant for speaking her mind, often isolating not just her biggest opponents, but people on her own side as well. Melissa Leo is pretty much aces in everything she acts in, and this picture is no exception. With a better script and story to guide her and the entire project in someone else's hands, this role could have garnered her Oscar attention.

"The Most Hated Woman in America" could have been a gripping and intriguing film about the life of a controversial figure who drew the ire of the faithful from all across the country. It could have focused on the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians, many of whom threatened violence against this woman for exercising and fighting for the proper implementation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Though it does briefly show such things, the primary focus is on O'Hair's life as a mother and how she juggled being a single parent with her activism, her kidnapping, and the outcome of that dramatic situation with only mere flashbacks of her biggest court battles. O'Hair had a very storied career, most of which is glossed over with a more bullet point style of approach in order to get to the gruesome and grizzly end of her life.

The final product of "The Most Hated Woman in America" winds up feeling more like a better-than-average Lifetime drama, which we guess is better than being a sub-par theatrical biopic. Either description feels just as accurate. For what it is, we really only learned a little something about a woman we already knew nothing about. We feel as if director and writer Tommy O'Haver didn't quite know what to do with such a deep and passionate subject matter, and instead of opting for the complicated, odd, unique life story of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, took the safe and easy route, turning this into a crime thriller with very little oomph. We wish we could say we learned more about O'Hair and all she did for the movement, especially considering movies about Atheists don't get made very frequently. With a little retooling and a lot of artistic changes, this could have been something special when it's really just average at best.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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