Hyde Park on Hudson
Look Who’s Coming to Dinner
Review written by Robert Patrick
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney
The frail frame and steely resilience of one of our most beloved presidents and the staccato, machine gun spurts of one of the most misunderstood kings in England’s history. What do you get when you put them together? Fiery, moving portraits or plot points about hot dogs? Apparently plot points about hot dogs.
Bill Murray looks like a bespectacled muppet in a performance that’s more of a loopy impression of Franklin D. Roosevelt than it is an embodiment of the late president. The movie, based on the personal diaries of FDR’s sixth cousin, Margaret Stuckley, is a harmless, sometimes aimless, recounting of the climate shortly before the United State’s entry into the second World War. The tempo is buoyant, innocuous, and flighty. The meat of the confessional accounts, told by FDR’s mistress, are painted in watercolors instead of oil. Helium-like snapshots of historical figures are becoming a breezy norm in Hollywood in recent years, with films such as Me and Orson Welles and My Week with Marilyn acting as flippant heritage pictures. Bright, challenging filmmaking has been forfeited in favor of accessible vignettes that are ripe for made-for-tv specials.
Hyde Park on Hudson feels like a pincushion for whimsy and effervescent dialogue. The clothes and rooms, despite being era accurate, don’t look lived in. The conversational exchanges are stilted and wooden, and if you shut your eyes, you can practically hear the actors reading from the script. And worse is that Jeremy Sams’ score sounds like a bastardization of John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen”, first heard in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. When Richard Nelson’s porous script shifts to King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visiting the Roosevelts, the film idles and hums until the gas runs out.
Between the toothless Hyde Park on Hudson and the heralded The King’s Speech, the facade of King George is getting a lot of face time in the past few years. There’s only hope that there will be another film, based on a pivotal point in the royal figurehead’s life, that will be in production shortly. Perhaps a picture about King George VI and Winston Churchill trying to open a pack of Earl Grey tea while discussing family pets. The possibilities are endless.
Roger Mitchell’s direction is either frenzied or glacial, but nowhere in between. Often times the camera zooms in on hands and focuses on the back of heads in a plea for existential artistry. Mitchell’s film is also one of the ugliest pictures of the year. Watching the King and Queen chew the fat in Roosevelt’s estate is akin to huffing a bag of shelf dust. Rooms are gelatinous and murky, and even the sky seems to be covered by a lamp shade.
Hyde Park on Hudson is the fat waiting to be trimmed from the oeuvre of cinematic, historical biopics. The performances are little other than curious microcosms in each actor’s career, and the screenplay needs to be rewritten by a fire.