‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ (2012) Movie Review

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Laura Linney and Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson
Laura Linney and Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson
Photo: Focus Features

I have no idea where to even begin with Hyde Park on Hudson. I don’t even know why it’s called Hyde Park on Hudson. It should be called Roosevelt’s Love Shack or FDR’s Gettin’ Some. I say this because, despite initial appearances, the point of the film seems to be a justification for infidelity as we learn of President Franklin Roosevelt’s intimate transgressions over a period of time spent with his sixth generation cousin.

Confusion surrounds the film as we’re initially led to believe it’s going to focus on the visit from the King and Queen of England to Roosevelt’s titular, upstate New York getaway in June of 1939. That visit, however, turns into a hot dog-eating sideshow compared to the exploration of FDR’s sexual exploits. All considered, I have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from any of this, and after this review I won’t likely ever consider it again.

We’re initially introduced to Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), referred to solely by her nickname Daisy, distant cousin to President Roosevelt. We hear her read pages from her diary, which was found following her death in 1991, revealing the secret relationship she had with the President over the latter half of her life.

Despite the fact she’s the narrator of the story and it’s seen through her eyes, I never felt as if we got to know her at all. I can’t tell you what she did before the events of this film take place or what she would do when she wasn’t attending to Roosevelt’s needs. She appears to take care of her mother by helping her put her stockings on, but I have to assume she had some interests outside of attending to nylons and being a starstruck groupie. As far as this film is concerned, though, there isn’t much else to her.

Roosevelt, played by Bill Murray, likes his martinis, stamps and women. He’s shrewd and mildly likeable, but he too remains a question mark. The material does the character no favors as I wouldn’t call this film a drama or a comedy, or even a combination of both. Essentially, the longer it wears on (and it only runs for 90 minutes) it loses any and all identity it otherwise may have had.

Tony Award-winner Richard Nelson penned the screenplay, largely informed by the letters and diary of Miss Suckley. From the limited amount of back-story I have read, it doesn’t seem there is any definitive evidence the two had a sexual relationship, but I’d argue the film certainly seems to imply there was more than fireside chats going on. In the film’s defense, however, sexual intimacy is referred to only once in an awkward scene early on in the film. The scene, though, comes so far out of left field you never feel as if the rest of the film is playing in the same ballpark.

Things begin to make even less sense as plates break and bad jokes are made, a chase scene ensues, the King and President go for a swim, a character hides like a stalker in the back seat of a car and on and on. It’s such a confused stew of this, that and the other thing, I’m not sure what director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) was intending to get across. There seems to be some attempt at comparing one “special relationship” to the one forged between the President and the English royalty, but if that’s the answer it certainly flew over my head.

I was also consistently curious when it comes to the Jeremy Sams’ score. Each time the theme began to play I couldn’t help but continually hear the theme to Star Trek. While certainly a few notes off from the classic theme song to the original series and it’s possible I may imagined the similarities, it struck me as odd and continually took me out of the film.

As far as the performances, hope for Murray and an Oscar nom is lost. As I said, the script gives him very little room to operate and the awkward scene I referenced above happens so early on you never look at the character the same way after. Linney is fine as Daisy, but her character is so meek and so often seen in the background she is never given a chance to stand out and shine. This, actually seems to be one of the film’s themes, the accepted role women took in kowtowing to the needs of men. As a matter of fact, the acceptance the film seems to take with this situation is a bit insulting as far as I’m concerned.

Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) is presented as something of an asexual shrew, his mother (Elizabeth Wilson) a bit of a control freak and, like I said, the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) are presented as house guests and something of a sideshow to the circus happening around them.

Without going any further, the film simply doesn’t work. It’s cluttered, messy and despite my greatest ability to dissect its meaning… pointless.

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