Movie Review: Hyde Park on Hudson
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The idea of Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt may strike some as strange, but the beloved actor’s performance is one of the most natural parts of “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The film wrestles with two vastly different tones and slips into some beautifully shot melodrama.
The story traces two of the former president’s important relationships, as he develops a (too) close bond with his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) and does some fatherly mentoring of King George VI (Samuel West). As he tends to these budding relationships, he also endures and charms a host of women, including his meddling mother, his willful wife, and a secretary with whom he has a romantic relationship. Despite his physical limitations, it seems FDR was a man who got around quite easily.
The relationships with Daisy and King George are cultivated at Roosevelt’s mother’s house in upstate New York. The president enjoys retreating to the country manor for relaxation, though his doting mother gives him little room to breathe.
The president calls on his distant cousin Daisy to keep him company. She is whisked away from her modest life caring for her aunt to keep Roosevelt happy, a job that includes indulging him in his stamp collecting and giving him some measure of sexual comfort.
The two form an almost instant bond, with a nervous Daisy falling victim to the president’s easy charm and inviting manner. The two escape from the crowded house with long drives through Malick-esque fields and eventually succumb to their lust in a lushly shot and extremely awkward bit of sexuality.
Although the first act is devoted to this relationship of blurred lines, we never learn much about Daisy. The script offers little room for Linney to flesh out her character, which is odd considering Daisy serves as the narrator, one whom we never connect with or care about.
The relationship between the president and King George VI, the first British king to visit American soil, has much more vitality and purpose. A nervous king whom audiences became acquainted with in 2010’s “The King’s Speech,” George arrives in America hoping to gently make the case for U.S. involvement in the pending war with Germany.
Despite the reservations of a slightly perturbed and haughty wife (a strong performance from Olivia Colman), the king reaches out to Roosevelt, who welcomes the king with cocktails and an avuncular warmth. Over a long night of drinks, the president encourages the young king and girds his confidence with a heartfelt appraisal of the king’s abilities.
While the Roosevelt-Daisy relationship lacks appeal, the king and queen’s bond has a charm peppered with realistic banter and mild antagonism. The screenplay finds its footing as it examines the queen’s class and cultural concerns as visiting royalty (forced to eat hot dogs) and reveals a king trying desperately to find his voice.
Murray disappears into his role as FDR, blending Lothario charm with professorial cool. Whether grappling with the edge of a desk to move unassisted from his wheelchair or going limp to be carried by assistants, Murray gives a sense of authenticity to the president’s physical limitations without being distracting.
Despite Murray’s best efforts, Roosevelt here just feels like a coddled, passive-aggressive manipulator of women who gets away with as much as the people around him will allow. And because he is the president, that means he gets whatever he wants. Good news for the president, but it doesn’t make for a very engaging portrait of a man or a leader.