Directed by: Roger Michell (Morning Glory)
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams
I didn’t mind Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson in the least. I might even say I enjoyed it in passing. I certainly enjoyed things about it — Bill Murray, Samuel West, Olivia Williams. I liked the film’s pleasantly summery look. I also give it extra points for incorporating two Ink Spots songs on the soundtrack. But during the course of watching it the first time, I spent a large part of the film wondering what its point was. Oh, it’s clear enough that it wanted to be this year’s The King’s Speech (2010) — and I give it high marks for incorporating its own Bertie (Brit TV actor Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Brit TV actress Olivia Colman) as supporting players, and for overcoming the fact that they aren’t played by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. (In fact, it may have done this too well because they threaten to take over the film.) But Hyde Park lacks much of anything in the way of a dramatic arc. It tries to find one in the results of the visit of said British King and Queen to FDR’s (Bill Murray) summer home in the hope of getting the U.S. involved in World War II. The problem is that those results — conveyed by a “let’s wrap this up” series of titles — don’t come for more than two years after the action, and had a somewhat tenuous connection to this.
What this leaves us with is the story of FDR’s romantic involvement with a distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney) — and that’s really not enough. The problem is — at least in part — that Daisy is remarkably uninteresting. Who is she? Other than being a poor relation who falls under the great man’s spell, I have no idea — and the film gives me precious little reason to care, which is particularly unfortunate since she’s narrating the events. Near as I can tell, she’s a woman who spent her life waiting to be one of the president’s lady companions. It might as well be called I Was Franklin’s Doormat. The nature of it all comes down to one scene where FDR drives her into a picturesque field and she affords him what is surely the most antiseptic and unmessy manual pleasuring in the history of sex. I assume this is aimed at a target audience that considers itself sufficiently sophisticated to acknowledge such a scene, but too genteel to want to think of it in icky biological terms. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the visiting royalty all but pull the rug out from under the ostensible stars.
On the plus side, Murray makes for a believable — and believably complex — FDR. He plays him as a shrewd but sympathetic man with more than a little bit of human frailty. Yet, he’s careful never to play for sympathy. Murray’s depiction of FDR is of a man who wants you to like him, respect him and maybe even admire him, but he has no use or need for your pity. And that’s exactly what Murray gives us. Unfortunately, he’s prety much on his own doing it because the script doesn’t give him much to work with. Still, he — and the supporting royalty — keep the film engaging enough. What they can’t do is make it anything more than light entertainment. Ultimately, it’s just a pleasant little movie where the dramatic highlight is whether or not King George VI will bring himself to eat a hot dog. Rated R for brief sexuality.
Starts Friday at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14 and Fine Arts Theatre