You won’t like this movie. How’s that for burying the lede? You’re gonna want to like it, because it is based on a true story and seems kind of interesting as a period piece, but you’re going to be halted from liking it by everything that happens in and around it. At best, Hyde Park on Hudson (terrible title!) is simply fine, the kind of movie that leaves your mind immediately after viewing, a kind of pointless history lesson that neither educates the intellect or enhances our understanding of the world around us. Though there’s some beauty in the details of the film, it isn’t enough to bolster up this sinking ship.
Accompanied by a Laura Linney voiceover that monotonously relates the events transpiring on screen, the film focuses in on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) relationship with his fifth cousin, Daisy (Linney), as well as a weekend visit from the king and queen of England, who are in the States to kiss the ring and ask for American assistance in the war against Germany. Daisy spends her time keeping FDR company and exploring her emerging feelings for the man, and the rest of the film feels as if it is mostly spent on a generous discussion of whether the royals eating hot dogs at a picnic is proper or not. Oy with the hot dogs already. These are the same two royals featured in “The King’s Speech,” which is somewhat distracting as you simply spend your time imagining Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in their place.
However, the best performances come at the capable hands of Samuel West and Olivia Colman, who portray the royals, all stiff adherence to manners and shock at dingy American customs. Bill Murray is wonderfully different as FDR, putting himself out there and taking risks in ways he hasn’t for some time. But the film suffers from the inclusion of Laura Linney, who drags the entire enterprise down. Her decisions in the role of Daisy are often baffling, involve a lot of staring blankly into the middle distance, and tip toeing around the world. Daisy is the kind of woman whose entire existence is an apology of sorts, always timidly afraid of being in the way or inconveniencing anyone. Other women in the film fare better, from Olivia Williams’ vivacious Eleanor Roosevelt to FDR’s secretary Missy, played by Elizabeth Marvel. But overall there are no winners here, no one to solidly champion or fall in love with. Instead you mostly wish you yourself were eating those tasty hot dogs, preferably far away from any of these uncompelling people.
Hyde Park on Hudson is funny at times, there’s an infectious warmth, charm and humor in Murray’s performance of FDR, but it is bogged down by the tedious, relentless voiceover and lack of focus. There’s also a certain amount of uncomfortable sexytimes in the film, including a rather abrupt and creepy hand job, so perhaps avoid seeing this one with conservative parents or a burgeoning romance in tow. Fans of FDR or Bill Murray may find plenty to love in his performance, but overall the film is a wash.