Focus Features has done a swell job promoting Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina," but two of their small-scale year-end features aren't getting the kind of response any awards-contender needs, "Promised Land," and "Hyde Park on Hudson." Which leads me to ask what benefit these films get from being scrutinized inside the awards window. Why not give them a chance in a less competitive frame?
"Hyde Park on Hudson," the second presidential portrait of the season, hits theaters today, starring Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The film, which follows the 32nd president's hosting of Brit royals at his country estate and his affair with Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), is generally too bland and insipid for the critics — "terribly underwritten," "tacky" and "nothing tremendously effective."
Following after "The King's Speech," which also features King George VI, "Hyde Park" feels too flimsy to warrant feature film treatment and would have fared better on television. Murray is charming as FDR, but his sexual dalliances with two women other than his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) are handled in an icky male-gaze way by director Roger Michell, who is off his game on this one.
Mr. Michell has fun with the royal visit, and there’s an absorbing, intimate scene between the president and the king that could be a coda to “The King’s Speech,” the 2010 film about his relationship with his speech therapist. (You have to wonder if Daisy was added in a bid to better distinguish this movie from “The King’s Speech.”) Saddled with a role that groans with historical weight, yet is also terribly underwritten and underconceptualized, Mr. Murray’s Franklin rarely comes to palpable life before this encounter. The actor strikes familiar poses, the famous cigarette jauntily thrusting. Yet because the movie often assumes Daisy’s point of view (she also narrates), his character remains vague, remote, more of a place holder among the rest of the period-correct production design.
Though Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is the presidential presentation of the moment, Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt is well worth paying attention to. His FDR beautifully conveys the notion of the chief executive as seductive star performer, a man who counted on his ever-appealing charm to get his way in matters both personal and professional."
What we see is a combination of Bill Murray and FDR, which is a nice thing about the performance. It isn't mimicry, or the phenomenal transformation of Daniel Day-Lewis into Lincoln, but a more modest, impressionistic approach that's enjoyable on its own terms,..Unfortunately, the film's main concern isn't Anglo-American relations, but Roosevelt's relations, sexual and otherwise, with the women who surround him, and compete for his affection, or at least his attention.
"Half as long and twice as much fun as the self-important 'Lincoln,’' Roger Michell’s charming sex-and-politics comedy 'Hyde Park on Hudson’' is basically a frothy tabloid take on presidential history."
"And if you’re hoping to use this movie to cram for that upcoming history final on the New Deal or the Munich Pact, better downgrade those expectations right now. Hyde Park on Hudson has little more on its mind than hot dogs and hand jobs—which, come to think of it, would have made for a much catchier alliterative title."
"Hyde Park On Hudson depicts Roosevelt as a boozy adulterer, but it nevertheless tilts heavily towards hagiography. Like the women who loved and revered him, the film forgives Roosevelt’s transgressions all too easily when it would be better off holding him accountable for the complicated, sometimes painful consequences of his actions."
But the film would remain just a bonbon or a mildly diverting lark were it not for its moving central section,..A revelatory exchange between men of comparable global stature but glaringly different experience and character, the whole episode is beautifully written, directed and performed."
An unseemly look at the private life of one of America's most revered commanders-in-chief is framed through the royal visit that cemented the United States' alliance with Britain in "Hyde Park on Hudson." Elevated somewhat by the stunt casting of Bill Murray as FDR, this frequently tacky tell-all amplifies one aspect of "The King's Speech's" appeal — and serves as an encore of sorts for stuttering King "Bertie" — by revealing celebrated world leaders to be as insecure and flawed as the rest of us. But Roger Michell's treatment shares none of "King's Speech's" overcoming-adversity triumph.
Had the picture focused on the Daisy/Franklin relationship with more thought, perhaps 'Hyde Park' would bear more weight. But Michell is clearly more interested in entertaining and pleasing his audience, creating a middle-of-the road dramedy that possesses a few somber notes and the occasional comic tickle, but nothing tremendously effective in either aim.
Don't waste your time on Hyde Park on Hudson. Watch these other Bill Murray clips instead. (Link here.)