It is always interesting to watch a film about a person you didn’t even know existed. The biopic has earned a place in our hearts, choosing to tackle subjects from the writing of Winnie the Pooh, to the inspiration behind Rocky Balboa. So when Netflix released The Most Hated Woman In America, it is safe to say that I was intrigued.
The Most Hated Woman in America follows the life story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the outspoken activist and founder of the American Atheists. It depicts her first triumph over prayer in Baltimore schools, all the way until her kidnapping and eventual murder in 1995.
It is undeniable that this topic and this person, in particular, is guaranteed to pique the interest of the viewer. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a tour de force. She was not about the do anything by halves or succumb to the will of the American majority. Her determination, her belief, and her cause earned her the title of the most hated woman in America.
Melissa Leo plays Madalyn, the feisty, biting and generally not very nice protagonist. She’s a hypocritical old woman with unapologetic opinions and a desire to be heard. Despite this character being highly versatile and despite being played by a generally very good actress, she falls short. Something about the writing of the part is lacklustre, a major downfall for a film with such a strong lead role.
Her granddaughter, Red (Juno Temple) and son Garth (Michael Chernus) are also weak. By no means would these supporting roles contend with the whirlwind that is Madalyn Murray O’Hair, but surely they should be able to stand on their own two feet without being propped up with someone else’s dialogue?
The film itself is just a bit shabby. With a confusing script, poorly written dialogue and characters that are about as flat as a sheet of paper, it was not a winner from the off. However, the interesting and saddening story of the Murray O’Hairs redeems the film slightly, despite how badly executed it actually is.
The second storyline of the journalist researching the family’s disappearance is also disappointing. Played by Adam Scott, journalist Jack Ferguson navigates the underdeveloped and somewhat cobbled together storyline of the newspaper that helped to find and convict their murderers. It is shabbily constructed and you wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t in the film if someone edited it out.
The murderers themselves are wholly mediocre. Considering these men stole from the Murray O’Hairs, and then killed them all in quite brutal ways, they aren’t exactly made to seem evil. Instead, they’re bumbling idiots who generally just aren’t played or written very well.
Considering Madalyn Murray O’Hair caused such a stir in 60s and 70s America, this film doesn’t do justice to the woman who fought her whole life for what she believed in and garnered so many enemies along the way. Yes, she is made to seem a bit mean. Yes, she is made to seem volatile. However, how can you call the film The Most Hated Woman in America if you don’t actually show the hate?