5/10 A biopic that is equal parts generic, unfocused and fascinating, “The Most Hated Woman in America” tells the story of famed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who I personally was not familiar with before watching this movie. I do enjoy watching biopics to learn about people and subject matter of which I was previously unaware and in that sense, this movie succeeds. Although to be fair if you are old enough to remember the news story surrounding her death, this will lose most of its bite for you. On one hand the movie follows many familiar biopic tropes as it jumps back and forth between two time periods. The movie wastes too much time focusing on the O’Hair family melodrama, instead of diving deeper into the landmark cases O’Hair fought and won and what her organization she built does and how it impacts life in America. Getting to know her family life and how important being a mother was to her is important, don’t get me wrong. But the movie tries to do too much in too short of a timespan. It jumps from family soap opera to true crime to investigative journalism to religious politics so quickly that you will get whiplash watching this. The pacing works fine in terms of keeping your attention and entertaining you but at only an hour and a half, there is not nearly enough time to flesh out all this movie tries to accomplish. Instead of going for a less is more approach and sticking the landing with that, the movie is stretched thin and doesn’t truly succeed in any of what it sets out to achieve. One thing the movie does accomplish is Melissa Leo’s unbelievable leading turn. If you needed yet another example of what a talented actress Leo is, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example as she disappears into her role. The supporting cast is overall solid too, although Josh Lucas, while giving a strong performance, seems miscast to me and didn’t seem believable in the role. His pretty boy looks (especially since the man he is playing looked nothing like him in real life) is more of a distraction which is a shame since his performance still works. One thing I found most fascinating is that no one, religious or atheist, are portrayed well in the movie. The movie takes a rather shallow, flawed look at how it portrays religious people but just when you think the movie will show how much better and superior in intellect atheists are than religious people, the movie shows you how miserable and morally bankrupt of a person O’Hair was and how many atheists close to her were just as evil. No one really comes out on top in the movie, which I guess is better than tipping the scales one way or another. In the end, the movie is pretty generic and forgettable. Watching this movie won’t feel like being in Heaven or Hell…more like purgatory.
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