Hyde Park on Hudson


Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

(2012) Historical Drama (Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron, Olivia Williams, Martin McDougall, Andrew Havill, Nancy Baldwin, Samantha Dakin, Jonathan Brewer, Kumiko Konishi. Directed by Roger Michell

Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg’s long-gestating project, Lincoln finally came to fruition. It was a superb film that really humanized the iconic President and made him, if anything, even more worthy of admiration. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is another President who is much loved (well in Liberal circles anyway) and a similar treatment of him would surely have been welcome.

It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of war. King George VI (West), the recently crowned and woefully unprepared monarch of England (after the abdication of his brother) is coming to the United States – the first reigning King of England to ever do so – not just to make political hay in his own country but also for a desperately important task; to gauge whether the Americans would assist them when war inevitably broke out (as it would do a scant three months after their visit).

Springwood, the President’s estate in Hyde Park, New York in the Hudson Valley is in an uproar. To be hosting the King and Queen (Colman) of England is important enough but the whole affair has turned into a battle of wills between the President’s mother (Wilson) and wife Eleanor (Williams). Mommy, ever mindful of FDR’s political image, wants nothing done to tarnish his image as a world leader while Eleanor seems hell-bent on tweaking the monarchs somewhat.

Franklin (Murray) needs some respite from the bickering and stress. After a number of relatives are called without success, a distant cousin named Daisy (Linney) at last answers the call and is driven to Springwood to help “take the President’s mind off of things.” It’s awkward at first; while related, they barely know each other and Daisy isn’t really sure what she’s doing there. Franklin pulls out his stamps. They seem to hit it off however once that initial discomfort wears off. Soon they are going for rides in the countryside in a specially fitted car that the President, stricken by polio and nearly unable to use his legs, can drive only with his hands. Soon those drives are leading to stops and at those stops there is some intimacy.

Meanwhile the war continues with FDR’s secretary Missy LaHand (Marvel) trying to mediate but there are absolutes going on – Eleanor wants the Royals to attend a picnic in which hot dogs are served which is mortifying enough but that she wants to serve cocktails ­– that’s more than the teetotaling mother of the President can bear. Daisy tries to hover near the edges so that none can figure out the nature of the relationship she’s building with Franklin, but even she doesn’t quite understand what’s really going on.

The relationship between Daisy and FDR would remain a secret until shortly after she died just shy of her 100th birthday. Some letters and diaries were found in which she discussed her intimacies with the former President. I’m not sure how much the writers relied on those writings for the story – whether they were faithful to Daisy’s words or if they used them as a rough outline – but it could have been a nice jumping off point.

My problem with it is that Daisy really isn’t all that interesting a character. She’s a middle aged woman (she was 48 when these events took place) who hasn’t had a lot of experience with men and develops almost a high school crush on FDR. She is in her own way as lonely as the man at the top, her life mainly revolving around her aunt (Bron) whom she acts as a caretaker to.

She seems like a nice enough albeit naive woman but I’m not sure that she’s got the personality to base an entire movie around – and that isn’t a knock against Linney. She fares much better than Murray however, who doesn’t resemble FDR in the slightest and whose attempt to mimic the distinctive style of speech and accent of the President is simply ghastly. A very big issue – and this isn’t Murray’s fault in the slightest – is that we never get much of a three dimensional portrait of FDR. We see him as a letch and as somewhat disingenuous but we never get a hint of the political savvy or of his inner strength in pulling the country out of a depression and overcoming polio. Instead he sems mostly to hold to the parody image of Bill Clinton as an insatiable womanizer.

The surrounding cast is pretty good, particularly West and Colman as the somewhat befuddled royals who are on the one hand afraid and self-conscious but on the other hand not really sure what to do. We met West’s Bertie in The King’s Speech played with a little more charisma by Colin Firth but West carries the weak chin and frustration of a lifelong stutterer very well. Colman gets the haughty attitude of a Royal who is quite unsure if she’s being made sport of.

Williams also captures the forthright shoot-from-the-hip attitude I always imagined Eleanor Roosevelt to have, although like Murray her accent is distracting. The movie has a bit of a sense of whimsy in the humor (the looks on the faces of the Royals as King George VI is served a hot dog is priceless) but where it lacks is in heart. I was left unmoved for the most part and would have wished that the legacy of President Roosevelt didn’t get trashed by making him out to be the sort of man who thought first with his genitals. I believe him to be a much more complex character than that and that’s precisely what we didn’t get and despite delivering a beautifully shot, meticulously detailed film, we don’t get a movie that is anything more than an ABC Family movie for the middle aged.

REASONS TO GO: Captures some of the cult of personality around FDR and of the era he lived in. Reduces a crucial point in history into a soap opera.

REASONS TO STAY: We really don’t get a sense of FDR the man other than as a complete jerkwad and Murray seems content to caricature him rather than explore him.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of sexuality and some fairly adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daisy’s real name was Margaret Suckley and she was one of four women at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia when Roosevelt passed away.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100. The reviews are trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Broken Flowers

UPSTATE NEW YORK LOVERS: I’m not 100% sure if they filmed the exteriors in the Hudson Valley near where these events actually took place but it does look as if they did and those exteriors are just breathtaking.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack Reacher

New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2012


This Is 40

THIS IS 40

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow. Directed by Judd Apatow

In a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow revisits the lives of big sister Debbie and her husband Pete as Debbie gets set to hit the big four-oh. They realize that they are in danger of letting life pass them by and try to figure out the important things before they are too old to appreciate them.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

(Paramount) Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke. A young woman finds that a strange and exciting circus is actually a portal to amazing worlds. Featuring the acrobats of various Cirque du Soleil shows from across the country, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson of the Narnia series and produced by James Cameron, who is testing out new 3D technology for his upcoming Avatar sequels.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for dramatic images and some sensuality)

Dabangg 2

(Arbaaz Khan) Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Malaika Arora. A police officer battles a corrupt politician while attempting to romance his wife, shore up his ties with his brother and father who are still mourning the murder of his mother in the first film and occasionally break into song without warning.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Guilt Trip

(Paramount) Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott. An inventor, about to embark on a road trip to sell the most important product of his life, becomes concerned with his mom’s chronic loneliness and impulsively invites her along. A road trip with Mom…what could go wrong?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Hyde Park on Hudson

(Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron. In 1939 the King and Queen of England became the first reigning monarchs of that country to visit the United States. Their mission was to plead for American assistance in the coming war, a war that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t eager to join. Visiting at Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat Hyde Park, the fate of the world hung in the balance and the whole thing was witnessed by Roosevelt’s cousin Daisy.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Jack Reacher

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall. A former military cop now wandering the country without possessions or roots, content to explore with complete freedom. He will have to put his skills of his former profession back to work when a former Army sniper is accused of a heinous crime that Reacher doesn’t think he committed, plunging him into a maelstrom of secrets that men would kill to keep that way. From the bestselling book series by Lee Child.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Monsters, Inc. 3D

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn. The mouse mavens pull out yet another Pixar classic to be dusted off and given the 3D conversion treatment. Very nice. Unnecessary.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G