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"Hyde Park On Hudson" Fails To Charm

Elizabeth Johnson |
December 5, 2012 | 11:49 p.m. PST

Senior Entertainment Editor

In a welcome departure from his typical deadpan style, Bill Murray captures the spirit of FDR with aplomb. (Focus Features)
In a welcome departure from his typical deadpan style, Bill Murray captures the spirit of FDR with aplomb. (Focus Features)
While “Hyde Park On Hudson” (in theaters Friday) boasts stand-out character acting from the majority of its cast, the film, chronicling the love affair between Franklin Roosevelt and his distant cousin Daisy, fails to answer the most basic question: why should we care?

Bill Murray stars as the charismatic FDR with a slightly inconsistent accent (seriously, is it Bostonian? Southern? A quick search reveals Roosevelt was born in New York so the accent is all the more vexing). But Murray delivers a formidable performance, a twinkle in his eye throughout the film, despite the dubious verity of his speech.

Laura Linney does a fine job in the role of Daisy, a distant relative called to Roosevelt’s home in upstate New York to entertain and raise the spirits of the President, who suffers from paralysis and has very limited mobility. But how this dull wallflower was able to win the affections of FDR is unclear.

After a quick montage set to romantic, swelling music and a highly unnecessary voiceover from Daisy, the pair finds themselves in a car stopped in a field of flowers, and Daisy presumably gives FDR a hand job. This is less than five minutes into the film, and it is exactly as creepy as it sounds.

Enter the second plot, which departs wholeheartedly from the initial tone set by the film. The King and Queen of England are visiting FDR’s home in 1939 - soon after the blossoming romance begins - in an attempt to strengthen American support for the UK on the verge of WWII. It is the first time a British royal has visited the states, and, expectedly, hilarity ensues.

The most scene-stealing performances are delivered by Samuel West as King George VI and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth. West portrays the King with charming vulnerability and a believable stutter. Unfortunately for him, the character has been played so recently, and the bar set so high with Colin Firth’s Academy Award-winning performance in “The King’s Speech,” that the role doesn’t pack nearly the same punch.

The film’s biggest problem isn’t the acting; it’s everything else. Despite some humorous moments, the script is stilted across the board, leaving the interactions awkward and contrived. 

The romance isn’t developed in a way that makes the audience invested in its future. From the director of “Notting Hill” and “Morning Glory,” a more believable love story than, "Roosevelt was my special friend," is the requisite. The king and queen’s visit is entertaining, but the two plots just don’t intertwine to make for a cohesive film.

It’s been drilled into our heads since history class the key role FDR played in events both foreign and domestic during his terms, but the Roosevelt of this film is a mama’s boy more prone to admiring his stamp collection than making foreign policy decisions. 

There are many historical trajectories underlying the rather superficial narrative, but none are explored to their fullest potential. Roosevelt’s illness, the King’s stutter and sense of inadequacy, Eleanor’s relationship with the president – all are fascinating strands that could have been teased out of this rather plodding film.

“Hyde Park On Hudson” tries too hard to be a light, charming snapshot of a film, when something of more depth would have had twice the impact.

Reach Senior Entertainment Editor Elizabeth Johnson here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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