Friday, March 24, 2017

Now on Netflix: The Most Hated Woman in America (2017)

The Most Hated Woman in America (2017) - Directed by Tommy O'Haver; Written by O'Haver, Irene Turner; Starring Melissa Leo, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, Josh Lucas, Vincent Kartheiser, Rory Cochrane, Peter Fonda, Michael Chernus, Brandon Mychal Smith, Anna Camp.

By Kenny Howell

Madalyn Murray O'Hair is a very complex character, so it is a tough task to capture all that she is in a movie.

Murray O'Hair, played by Melissa Leo (All the Way), is well-known as a fighter of free speech, once suing the school board because the junior high her son attended forced him to say the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of school each day. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and is what got prayer taken out of public school.

This obviously made a lot of people mad, and still does today. O'Hair had the personality to deal with all this, in saying that she had a very abrasive, but confident demeanor. She was extremely hard to get along with, even for her son William (Vincent Kartheiser), who was estranged from her later in life, and now fights to bring prayer back to school. Murray O'Hair brushed off death threats, and moved on from the fallout of the prayer in school battle, eventually founding American Atheists, which is an organization that fights for the separation of Church and State.

After the Supreme Court battle, American Atheists started seeing huge donations, and a former employee, an ex-convict named David Waters, played by Josh Lucas (Big Sur), knew this when he kidnapped her, her other son Jon (Michael Chernus) and her granddaughter Robin (Juno Temple). The police didn't even bother to investigate because they thought it was a publicity stunt by Murray O'Hair, who tended to do these sort of things from time to time, and, well, she hadn't made a whole lot of friends in Texas. Waters wanted the money so him and his buddies could head for the border, but things went horribly wrong, and all three of the kidnapped were murdered.

There is obviously a lot going on here, and it is difficult to encapsulate all of that in a cohesive film. Director Tommy O'Haver does a commendable job, though the film does seem to jump around quite a bit. Leo is perfect for the part of Murray O'Hair, and Adam Scott (The Overnight) and Kartheiser do what they do best. I feel that Temple is a bit wasted as Robin, who doesn't get much focus and could have been played by anyone, and she is a very unique talent. Still, O'Haver does give a passable glance at Murray O'Hair, somehow, agree or disagree with her cause, drastically changed the separation of Church and State during her lifetime.

The Most Hated Woman in America is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***

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