Monday, January 14, 2013

Hide Prep For Harem?

     I had every reason to root for Hyde Park On Hudson.  It had a terrific cast lined up.  It was based in one of America's most interesting historical periods and based around one of America's most interesting presidents.  It also gave the great Bill Murray an opportunity to stretch himself as an actor.  Despite a relatively inexperienced writing and production team, my hopes were high.
     Were my hopes realized?  Well, some of them.  The film was very uneven.  In fact, in places it was almost like it was two different films.  One of them was about the visit from the King and Queen of England to enlist the aid of the President and First Lady of the United States with what was rapidly turning into World War II.  On this level, the film actually works quite well.  The second film is about FDR's young cousin learning how to fit in as one of his myriad mistresses.  Hence the article's title.  This storyline....well....
     The performances from the first family and the royals were all first rate.  The Olivias (Williams and Colman) were a bit underutilized (as Eleanor and Elizabeth respectively), but made the most with the limited material they were given.  Ms. Colman's interaction with her husband the king (Samuel West) are particularly notable for comic timing.  Mr. West is really quite extraordinary as Bertie.  I think I may actually prefer his interpretation to Collin Firth's at times.
      The real stand-out, however, is Bill Murray as F.D.R.  In this respect, the film is completely satisfying.  Although I love Bill Murray, and consider him one of our great comedic actors, in all of his previous work he has played some variation of the same character.  Most of his characteristic mannerisms and verbal ticks have been present no matter what role he was playing.  I do not think, after seeing his work here, that we can still say the same.  The Bill Murray persona is completely swallowed by that of the president.  The actor becomes lost in the character.  Bravo.
      As I've said, the other side of the story doesn't fare as well.  Laura Linney (as the cousin/mistress) is almost completely unsympathetic.  Basically, her story line consists of her gradual seduction by the President followed by her indoctrination by presidential secretary and fellow mistress Missy (played by Elizabeth Marvel).  Linney's Daisy comes off as weak,easily molded and manipulated.  The role was a bit of a miscast for an actress so skilled at portraying great strength.
      I do not think that the blame for the uneven nature of this film can be placed on the production team, untried though they may mostly be.  Technically the film is fairly slick.  Particular credit is due to Production Designer Simon Bowles who did a really fantastic job.  I don't even think that the fault lies particularly with director Roger Michell who did draw some pretty great acting out of many of his cast members.
      The real problem is with screen writer Richard Nelson's script.  I'm not really sure why the dual storyline technique was employed at all.  If the film had just been about the royal's visit to America, it could have been a much stronger piece.  The only thing I can think of that might have prompted this story's other plotline is a desire to demonstrate how a leader's personal relationships don't really have any effect on how well they can lead.  The point is valid, but do we really need a movie about it?  Considering the impeachment debacle during the Clinton administration, maybe we do, but I would have enjoyed more of FDR and the King.
      Still, the film is worth watching just for Murray.  3 1/2 of 5*

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