Perhaps no film this year has been easier to make fun of in advance of its release than ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’. I know I had a few silly names for it earlier in 2012 when comparing it to something like ‘My Week with Marilyn’, but go figure…I prefer this film to that one. When I sat down to watch it during the New York Film Festival I already was aware that it had fallen from the status of being an Oscar contender, but somehow I emerged rather amused by the flick. It’s hardly great art, and is iffy as a biopic of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it’s got some strong acting and works as a comedy of manners. Bill Murray is rather good as FDR, though the film focuses far less on him than you’d expect. More time is given to Laura Linney’s character, who’s our entry point into the story. Linney and Murray are very solid, but neither is quite nomination worthy for me. This is an easy movie to pick on, but I was charmed by what director Roger Michell and scribe Richard Nelson came up with and find myself recommending it now that it’s opening this weekend. Don’t expect it to be on the level of the awards hopefuls surrounding it, but taken on its own, ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ is an entertaining little film.
Set during a pivotal weekend in 1939, we find ourselves following Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Linney), a somewhat distinct cousin of FDR (Murray), as the disabled President invites her over to spend some time with him at the upstate New York home that gives the film its title. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) are hosting the King and Queen of England, Bertie (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), as the latter seeks the help of the former in World War II. Despite being relatives, Daisy and FDR share a more sexual bond than most cousins do, and certainly more than he currently shares with his wife. Potentially also playing around with the President is his secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), but these dark moments are pretty much thrown aside for lighthearted culture clashes between the Americans and the Brits. It all leads to a surprisingly touching conversation between the President and the King helps to wrap up things nicely. The story probably shouldn’t work, given its somewhat slapdash nature and determination to not be an unflattering portrait, but somehow it just does.
At one point it was hard to find any Oscar predictions that didn’t contain Bill Murray high up on the Best Actor list and Laura Linney somewhere among wither Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. Now, they’re both long shots at best, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t both still giving high quality performances. Murray never hams it up and plays FDR as an often jovial man who knew how to make the most of almost any situation that came before him. It’s a bit showy at times, but mostly it’s just fun to watch him in the role. Linney is given less to do than an actress of her caliber deserves, but she makes the most of it and gives us a sympathetic portal into this world. She’s literally in the background a lot, but she’s in the forefront in terms of who we’re supposed to identify with. Both Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams turn in very solid supporting work, with perhaps Williams slightly outshining Colman, though Samuel West obviously pales in comparison to Colin Firth, who won an Oscar playing the same man in ‘The King’s Speech’. West isn’t bad, he’s just not particularly memorable. Elizabeth Wilson has the other main supporting role as Roosevelt’s pushy mother, but it’s Linney and especially Murray that remain in your thoughts after the credits roll.
There’s nothing especially terrific about the work Roger Michell turns in from the director’s chair, but he doesn’t commit any grave errors either. Mostly, he just keeps things moving at a decent pace and tries to prevent the tone of the film from going too far in any one direction. He’s not always successful there, but his handling of the actors makes up for it for the most part. The main issues lay with the script by Richard Nelson, which never quite reaches the levels one might have hoped for. He’s certainly chosen an interesting way of writing a movie about FDR, but you never get to spend enough time with the man (he’s honestly a supporting player here more than anything else). He also throws in the juicy speculation about his dalliance with Daisy, but that’s more just a rumor being given a spotlight than anything else. Nothing by Michell or Nelson is overtly bad, but sometimes it feels a bit too pedestrian, even though I enjoyed it overall.
Those who sit down to watch ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ freed from Oscar expectations/speculation will likely have a nice little time at the movies. Anyone looking at it as a contender still will run the risk of massive disappointment, but on its own terms this is a fun flick I don’t have a problem recommending to you all. I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed the movie for what it is and feel no shame about it. Now you just have to decide if it seems like your cup of tea or not. If you’re on the fence, I say…go for it.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: Bill Murray, Biopic, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Hyde Park on Hudson, Laura Linney, olivia colman, Olivia Williams, Oscar hopeful, Richard Nelson, Roger Michell, Samuel West