I like Bill Murray a lot. Not only is he one of the funniest people to have ever set foot upon our globe, but he is also a darn good actor.
Murray is not, however, a particularly talented character actor. This isn’t really any fault of his own, it’s just that Murray’s unique personality is so strong that no matter how deeply accented or made-up he is nor how hard the audience squints, it is virtually impossible to forget that it is him up there on the screen.
This is part of the problem with “Hyde Park on Hudson.” Murray does his very best portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but never entirely disappears behind the trademark spectacles and cigarette holder.
It’s also not really fair that this movie came out now when in the theater next door you’ve got Daniel Day-Lincoln resurrecting dead presidents with mind-blowing ease.
The biggest issue with “Hyde Park on Hudson” is that it doesn’t really have a point of view and therefore nothing is really at stake.
Half of the movie’s dramatic tension revolves around a pre-war visit to Roosevelt’s estate in upstate New York by the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England, who hope to persuade the president to enter the war on England’s behalf.
No matter how hard the movie tries to play up its importance, it doesn’t change the historical fact that the success of the visit is roughly number 138 on the list of reasons why the United States entered World War II.
The rest of “Hyde Park on Hudson” is about the romantic affair Roosevelt had with his distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney), which is a lot less creepy when you consider that Franklin’s wife, Eleanor (played in the movie by Olivia Williams), came in at about the same degree of familial separation. Or maybe that just makes it creepier.
Either way, it’s hard to care much because the character of Daisy is about as bland as day-old chowder and their romance isn’t portrayed as particularly passionate, that is unless car rides through pastoral New England get you all hot and bothered.
There is also a great deal of attention given to the King and Queen not only in regards to the pressure they feel representing their country but also in displaying an odd bit of tension in their marriage.
These scenes add virtually nothing and serve only to muddy the movie’s waters. Plus West is given the thankless task of portraying stammering King George while the memory of Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning turn as the same character is still fresh in our collective memory. It would be like playing T.E. Lawrence in 1965 while Peter O’Toole stood in the corner and whipped empty brandy bottles at your head. Good luck with that.
I suppose the whole point of “Hyde Park on Hudson” is to humanize FDR by showing his dalliances with mistresses, confessional moments with fellow heads of state, and the harsh physical realities of his struggles with polio.
But if that is the goal of your movie, then you don’t cast Bill Murray as FDR unless you’re trying to make some sort of point; and I have no idea as to what that point could possibly be.
“Hyde Park on Hudson” isn’t a particularly bad film, but it is a very, very slight one, which seems like a waste considering the heft of the cast and the subject matter.
I admire Murray for having the guts to take on this role and then giving it his all, but both he and FDR deserve better.
“Hyde Park on Hudson” is rated R for brief sexuality.