Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Most Hated Woman in America: Movie Review


Draws an interesting line between victim and villain.

The Most Hated Woman in America is a good movie, but they made a fundamental error which stops it from being a great movie: they focused on the least interesting aspect. There are actually many interesting and compelling aspects to the movie which should keep most viewers mildly interested throughout at the very least. The story is about American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair – the most hated woman in America. Granted, I hadn’t actually heard of her prior to this movie, but given the daily extreme death threats she received every day of her life, her moniker fits.   2017

Directed by: Tommy O'Haver

Screenplay by: Tommy O'Haver

Starring: Melissa Leo, and Josh Lucas

The most interesting element is Madalyn herself – she is both victim and villain. Especially at the beginning, you want to feel sorry for her; she’s just a woman compelled to speak her truth, but it’s clear she goes over-board and given some of the less ethical actions of the American Atheists, she brings a lot of this on herself.

The movie opens with her 1995 kidnapping. She, rather appropriately, asks her kidnapper “Don’t you think the police are looking for me?” Her kidnapper stares at her as if she’s crazy and very definitively responds, “No, Madalyn, I don’t think anybody is looking for you.” He’s mostly right. Only one person was trying to look for her and he had a hard time convincing anybody that her disappearance was something to be concerned about. And with that the film transitions into the earlier years of her life.

Watching the few moments that helped define Madalyn as the most hated woman in America were pretty interesting – and I could have used with a lot more of it. Given the interest and intrigue behind the actual life of the subject, perhaps a more traditional bio-pic would have been more fitting. But I can’t really blame any filmmaker for trying to eschew the traditional bio-pic.

The problem is that the central part of the film is about Madalyn’s relationship with her son William. They went for straight mother-son drama, trying to grab a more traditional audience that way. Given the more interesting elements around it, this movie had no business focusing on a boring family drama. This movie shouldn’t be about caring for characters, but being interested in their more significant actions.

The film also transitions into thriller towards the end – which is fitting given that the end of her life is kidnapping, murder, and thousands of dollars gone missing. Told you there’s an interesting movie here.

Another reason to watch is the many underrated actors that pop up in key roles. At first Melissa Leo is ridiculously over-the-top, but once we transition to younger Madalyn and watch her evolve, it becomes clear how on point her performance is. She was incredibly good as the slightly more subtle, not as outspoken, Madalyn (not her forte) and she fits well with the woman Madalyn becomes. The cast also includes Adam Scott as a journalist investigating the case. And once again I am impressed with Josh Lucas who was given a great character – in most cases an outright villain, but when it comes to the life of the most hated woman in America, the line between victim and villain is a lot more interesting.