Most Hated Woman in America (2017)
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Written by: Tommy O'Haver (screenplay), Irene Turner
Directed by: Tommy O'Haver
Starring: Melissa Leo, Vincent Kartheiser, Juno Temple, Adam Scott, Peter Fonda
Leo stars in this biopic about atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair whose
efforts led to the Supreme Court banning the Bible from public schools.
This is a well structured movie with an interesting history, but you won't like the protagonist. Despite how crazy this movie is, it's hard
to like a movie when the most likable character is the underdeveloped
Melissa Leo does a great job as always, hidden under believable makeup for the majority of the movie. No one in the movie cares about "the most hated woman in America," and at the end of the movie, I still don't either.
Movies often annoy me when they show a present or future event that's exciting and then flash back for the set up. This actually executes that well, with the timeline hop integrated into the story. When Madalyn Murray O'Hair (Melissa Leo) appears to be kidnapped, reporter Jack Ferguson (Adam Scott) looks her up, creating a smooth transition from her kidnapping in 1995 to her start in 1955.
It's clear that O'Hair is a real piece of work with an attitude. She's been kidnapped, but it doesn't phase her. She threateningly asks her kidnappers, "Don't you know who I am?" The title card then appears. The kidnappers tell her the cops don't care because of her "publicity stunts."
This plants the seeds early for O'Hair's exploits as her disdain for Christians is apparent. This movie makes no attempt to make her likable. When she drops her son off at school and hears a prayer, she curses in front of ten year olds, denigrating the teacher. O'Hair is someone that liked picking a fight. Whether she was right or not, her demeanor alienated people. While she brought various lawsuits against government organizations, it was always the prayer case against Baltimore schools that people remembered.
The main character, O'Hair, is not the hero of this story. This builds to the question of who kidnapped her. Almost anyone would have motive, but it turns out to be someone close to her. The kidnappers have a great plan. They know she's been using her non-profit organization, American Atheists, to embezzle money and funnel it into offshore accounts. If they ransom her for the money, she can't report it because then she'll be in trouble with the IRS. She didn't start the non-profit for change, she did it to line her own pockets. The fight over the Bible, was never on a moral ground. She's an opportunist, and as much of a hypocrite an the people she accused. This is a despicable character, and you can't completely fault the kidnappers. You almost root for them.
Her son Bill Jr. (Vincent Kartheiser), by whom she brought the Bible case to court disowned his mother, entering Alcoholics Anonymous and becoming a Christian by 1984. When he's informed of his mother's kidnapping, he's disinterested. O'Hair had a knack for turning everyone against her, even her son. Bill Jr. later became the head of the Religious Freedom Coalition, an organization that wanted prayer back in schools. Of course O'Hair had little regard for him after he left her fold.
While this tries to interject a little bit of humanity at the end, and it is an education on someone many would like to ignore, it's still just a movie about an unlikable and abrasive character.