Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hyde Park on Hudson

Just as The King's Speech was a historical footnote set within a tremulous backdrop, Hyde Park on Hudson may perhaps be a footnote upon that footnote.  And just as the international acclaim, dollars and awards bestowed upon the former likely netted the green-lighting of the latter, there's an easy digestibility to Roger Michell's lightly wrapped little period piece, made seemingly with the sole purpose of staging refined actors in famous roles, draped in Masterpiece Theater-lite circumstances with the hopes of catching wind in the same fashion.  However, as The King's Speech told its simple story of one mans journey to defeat and hide his own weakness, just as the perils of war was raging, Hyde Park on Hudson, a wan counterpoint, tackles the same period (and a few of the same main characters) from the American perspective, taking a few strange detours along the way.  Ones that prevent the film from truly blooming on it's own pleasant promise.  And while some of those strange sidetracks might have delved in  a deeper, richer way, the film rides it's machine-like currents so that nothing is stirred or aroused.  Bill Murray's portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is surely punctuated to be Hyde Park's highlight, and his clipped, charming presence is the films richest weapon, but the film, set around the historic weekend Roosevelt shared with King George VI and his wife Elizabeth at his upstate New York residence is so strange and misshaped that the deepest drama in the film comes down to whether or not King George will take a bite out of a hotdog.

There's hardly much of a glance into the life of Roosevelt himself, the film first undoing, as he is presented, polio-laden, and on the surface of things perhaps a bit bored, despite the aftermaths of the Depression and a war looming.  In need of service, his fifth cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney) is called in.  Hyde Park on Hudson is told from Daisy's perspective, that of an in the shadows woman who became mistress to the President.  She dryly narrates the film, fleshing out key players as the feverish weekend approaches-- the first time sitting members of British royalty have visited American soil.  There's inferences to the world behind, as King George (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) have made the voyage in hopes of generating US support for the coming war, and slight nods to strife at home, but Michell and team (Richard Nelson wrote the screenplay) are more interested in a broader drawing room light comedy instead.  The always welcome Olivia Williams plays Eleanor.

As a relationship slowly starts to build between Roosevelt and Daisy-- first seen through his sly flirtation as he shows her his stamp collection, then proceeding to afternoon drives, complete with hand jobs-- Daisy is seen in full tilt.  Think of a besotted Jane Austin heroine, except this time she's playing mistress.  Mid-way through, there's a dash of development and hurt in Daisy from which-- Hyde Park on Hudson's own sobbing Wuthering Heights moment-- but it feels silly and completely separate from the film at a point when the royals arrival and fussing about has backlogged our narrator even more into the shadows.  Linney, for her credit, tries to provide Daisy resilience and nuance, but the film doesn't seem to particularly care one bit and the role is decidedly one-note, if verging on slightly ridiculous.  What's left to cling to is sharply written passages nearly about nothing-- there may be a framework for a sitcom upon the era if evidenced by Hyde Park on Hudson.  In clipped scenes and vignettes, there's a quiet and stately charm, but as a whole the filmmakers seem uninterested in fleshing out any sense of character or story.

As the weekend proceeds, and it's a blunder in more ways due to plates being broken at dinner, Roosevelt's mother and her dallying about, and the farce of the King and Queen, President and First Lady and Mistress, all trying to hide their own indiscretions in name of diplomacy and good taste.  But eager to leave the party with smiles all around-- King George does indeed bite into his hotdog, and Daisy quietly settles into being one of FDR's ladies on the side-- Hyde Park on Hudson keeps everything mutely humming, registering subtle nods of a pulse along the way.  C

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