Hyde Park on Hudson

IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT: FDR (Bill Murray) takes his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) for a ride—in more ways than one.

Watching Bill Murray play Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one wonders why they didn't just hire Kevin Kline. Kline's easy, shallow Manhattanite manner could have done justice to the conception of FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson. The film gives us a vision of a colorlessly suave man shadowed by a ruthless personal life—he juggled mistresses—and tells us that he was surrounded by forceful, domineering women. Elizabeth Wilson plays FDR's mother, a teetotaler terror, always on alert for the rattle of a cocktail shaker. The story involves a visit from the king and queen of England in summer 1939. Samuel West plays the stuttering George VI (who was the subject of The King's Speech); he and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) have come for an uncomfortable stay at a Dutchess County house not suited for royals. The uncertain king gets a boost from FDR's world-famous ability to inspire confidence: the warmest scene is a late-night meeting of the two men. As an actor, Murray can't do what he does best—exude the air of falseness and dubiousness. Instead, he gives a warts-and-all performance—literally, considering the distracting raisin-sized mole Murray wears on his brow.

This very odd film tries to drain away some of the myth of FDR. Hyde Park on Hudson is essentially the story of a photo opportunity and uses the least-interesting person in the room as the entry point: FDR's cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), whom he seduces with banal authority. First Roosevelt shows her his stamp collection; then he takes her for a country ride, parks, clasps her hand and puts it in his lap. FDR may not be a demigod, but this cutting-down to size (especially given Linney's meek, slightly bewildered performance) isn't edifying or informative. She narrates, so we hear all the details of her heartbreak when she realizes she's been fed a well-used line by a powerful older man.

This grubby, privacy-invading movie doesn't make its point about how the lack of privacy keeps us from having the leaders we might have had. Hyde Park on Hudson is not as open as it seems, anyway. It says FDR spurned Eleanor (nicely played by Olivia Williams), but considering Eleanor's lack of enthusiasm for sex, we might have seen his side of it. And the way the poster sells this story as a naughty comedy is the last straw.

Hyde Park on Hudson

R; 94 min.

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