Hyde Park On Hudson
Historical melodramas are all the rage nowadays. I blame "The King's Speech" and "My Week with Marilyn;" but whatever the reason, its obvious audiences should get used to seeing iconic figures of the past repurposed yearly for uninspired Oscar bait. The latest to get the treatment are Franklin Roosevelt and his family, who collectively spend the majority of Hyde Park on Hudson bantering endlessly with King George, Queen Elizabeth, and themselves. Unfortunately this is not a "King's Speech" spinoff, so Colin Firth doesn't reprise his role.
But "Hyde Park" has a secret weapon that comparable trash like "Hitchcock" and "The Iron Lady" can only dream of: Bill Murray. And, as if this will surprise anyone anywhere, his comic timing is still spot-on - even in a stuffy drama. Whether it's haranguing his mistresses or convincing the King of England to 'lower' himself into attending a picnic, everything Murray does here has a knowing smirk to it; he's able to turn everything into a droll laugh. But of course, the film isn't written that way; and so it achieves a strange quality where the actors seem to be taking the material even less seriously than we do.
But really, who can blame them? They’ve been given roles of a lifetime, but the script knocks down all these figures into borderline-pathetic caricatures. FDR is portrayed as being chiefly interested in finding a way to escape his motorcade so he can score a handjob from his distant cousin - Laura Linney, who lifelessly narrates the film. First Lady Eleanor (Olivia Williams, of "Rushmore") spends her time fretting about whether or not it’ll lower her to refer to "Elizabeth" as Her Royal Highness. The King and Queen, for their part, worry about whether or not they’ll actually be served hot dogs at an upcoming luncheon. There’s no historical icon that the script can’t turn into middlebrow melodrama.
To structure the entire film around Linney, incorrectly assessing her as the audience’s ’surrogate,’ is to miss what makes parts of the film work in the first place. Because when it works - like a scene where much of the social awkwardness coalesces into a slow montage of the King having mustard slowly applied to his hot dog, with the suggestive elements obviously intentional - it’s a deadpan marvel; the year’s driest comedy. But those moments are few and far between, hidden among useless voiceover and false prestige. If only the script had made the same daring choice the actors did: to be funny.