Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) - Movie Reivew

If I told you a movie begins with a former President getting a hand job, which President would you guess was receiving it?  Clinton?  JFK?

No, I'm not kidding.  In the opening moments of Hyde Park on Hudson we see a very awkward scene of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) getting a hand job in his car from his fifth-cousin Daisy (Laura Linney).  You read that part right, too. His fifth-cousin, a distant relative.  I was initially kind of thrown off by the fact they were even keeping track that far.  Perhaps that's a thing of the past, but I usually don't hear of people mentioning any relation past the 2nd or 3rd cousin these days.  Maybe that's not a good thing we aren't keeping track anymore, or simply a reflection of how many more people there are, and how diverse the gene pool is getting.  Besides all of that, I though it was kind of sick that there was any relation between the two at all, as well as being kind of a disrespectful way to look at a former President.

Enough rambling.  Awkwardness abounds in Hyde Park on Hudson.  That really is the theme of the film.  You have an awkward beginning in a movie full of awkward humor and moments.  There's so much of it that I think it undercut the film.

While the movie begins with the affair between FDR and Daisy, the central, and more important, event of the film is that King George VI (Samuel West, who plays the same, stuttering King from The King's Speech) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) are coming to visit FDR at his family estate.  King George was the first reigning monarch to visit the United States, and it was presumed that he was going to ask for the US's aid leading up to WWII.  It's a pretty important event, but the movie divides it's focus between this and FDR's affairs.  The film is partially based on personal letters between Daisy and FDR found after her death, and the movie is also narrated by her character.

I wish I could tell you what kind of movie this was supposed to be.  It varied throughout between a light comedy, a historical drama, and then it would spend time as a character piece showing FDR's character flaws regarding women.  It's very choppy, and it suffers from really poor pacing.  I was shocked to see that the film was only 95 minutes, as it felt like it was well over two hours.  Director Roger Michell really couldn't decide on a tone or consistent direction.  His most recent credit was 2010's Morning Glory, another movie that I thought suffered from not knowing what kind of film it wanted to be.

There are some funny moments, but they primarily revolve around the cultural differences between the US and England, so you get a lot of those awkward, 'fish out of water' moments.  The humor fell pretty flat though, and I don't recall the movie getting more than just a light chuckle out of me once or twice.  Richard Nelson's script really needed some life to it, but I also think it was a mistake to base the screenplay off of Daisy's personal letters and diaries.  Outside of being someone FDR was having an affair with, there's really no significance to her character at all, and she has no impact on the outcome of the film.  Plus, if we're going to compare Presidential affairs to someone like JFK, then Daisy is certainly no Marilyn Monroe.

Even though Daisy narrates the film, she's not in it for large parts of the movie, or is relegated to a background role, as she doesn't have much to do with the larger events that are going on.  I've always liked Laura Linney, but I didn't think this was one of her stronger roles.  I don't think it's the fault of her performance necessarily, it's just not a very strong character.  Even Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) is barely a side character in the film.

However, I thought Bill Murray was very charismatic as FDR, but when isn't Bill Murray charismatic?  He's the strength of the film and it really suffers when he's not on screen.  There's a scene that really made me take notice of this where King George and FDR are having a drink together and sharing stories.  They're just talking as men, and it's the kind of thing that made you wish the whole movie would have just been about their developing relationship and the historical impact of it.

While Hyde Park on Hudson has a charismatic performance from Bill Murray as FDR, it suffers from really inconsistent tone and very poor pacing.  It's a hard movie to recommend even for die-hard Murray fans or those that like historical biopics.  It's a rental at best.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Bill Murray is the best part of this movie, but that's just about it. Everything else is pretty bad and dull for a watch. Good review Erik.

    1. It was an unusual choice to play FDR, but it was the only thing that really worked about the film. I wish the rest of the movie was at the same level as his performance.