Bill Murray is probably one of the most beloved film entertainers living today. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is probably one of the most towering characters of the 20th century politics. Hyde Park On Hudson‘s early trailers and teasers promised to show us Murray (in his first lead role since Broken Flowers) as a humane and humorous FDR, if a little petulant, surrounded by a lively tale of a royal visit to United States, picnics, and a dash of both political and romantic intrigue. I, for one, was very excited at the prospect. It looked to be juicy, fun, smart and even, yes, very funny at times.
Sadly, instead, we got this well, merely adequate film on our hands. Hinging almost too heavily on FDR’s maybe-affair with (5th-or-6th cousin) Daisy Suckley (a dowdy Laura Linney) it meanders between attempts to be salacious (much fuss has been made over a hand job between the two in a blooming field) and downright dragged out (even at a neat 1:34). With Daisy as our narrator, we are stuck in her immature, melodramatic view of the whole affair, her girlish crush on the president taking precedence over everything and FDR never shapes beyond third person accounts of his personality, which is a shame with a usually game-but-subtle-if-needed actor like Murray. Here he is stuck as almost a caricature of a great man, relying on mannerisms and (almost) comic sketches of this complex personality.
The “action” takes place at Roosevelt’s Mother’s estate, and uses the visit of King Albert and Queen Elizabeth to the President, in an attempt to build a relationship between the two great countries, especially in the shadow of an imminent looming war. This trip involved swim trips, (somewhat famously) hot dogs served by Eleanor, Native American entertainment, and a fair amount of cocktail drinking. Some international relationship building happened in the middle of it all, too. I never thought I’d be the person to choose a political tangent in the script over a romantic one, but the movie would have been better served if the Daisy storyline (which, it should be noted, is largely unconfirmed and based mostly on hearsay) was pushed to the background and these leaders of the free world were allowed to get to know each other a little better.
The King and Queen (a game, lively pairing of Simon West and Olivia Colman) are, instead, reduced to being almost fish-out-of-water comic relief for FDR. His many women (on top of Linney’s Stuckley, there is, of course Eleanor (a dowdier Olivia Williams), and his secretary, Missy, to name a few), a storyline that never quite takes off and features zero likable protagonists. Daisy is too plain. Eleanor is too dry. Missy is too callous. And FDR… well, FDR is as heartless of a bastard as you’d see, never facing any of these conflicts head on, but constantly hiding behind his presidential mask and having others do his dirty (personal) work for him. Combine that with the glaringly undecisive narrative and this many supposedly crucial characters crammed into a mere 90 minutes, and it is no wonder the film never quite grabs you, instead just testing your patience. Is this about FDR? Is this about Daisy? Is this about a time and a place? No one, especially the filmmakers, seem to know.