Emerging as the lead candidate of the 2012 Oscar bait sweepstakes, Hyde Park on Hudson is a disappointingly bland mix of drama and comedy that never comes close to gelling. It also paints a pretty unflattering picture of everyone involved, from Franklin D. Roosevelt on down. Whether this was intentional is unclear, but when the film essentially opens with FDR getting serviced in the front seat of his car by one of his multiple mistresses, I guess anything is fair game. It also won’t be the last time you feel strangely uncomfortable while watching this aimless, pointless exercise in “prestige” filmmaking.
Set in June of 1939, the film chronicles a history-making weekend during which the King (West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England make the first-ever visit by a reigning English monarch to America. The King is visiting to request help from the U.S. as they face imminent war with Nazi Germany. FDR (Murray) has more on his mind than just that. He’s having affairs with multiple mistresses, including Daisy (Linney), who’s unaware of the others, and also has a nagging mother (Elizabeth Wilson) to deal with.
If this all sounds like a bit more than this 95-minute film can chew, it is. Hyde Park on Hudson is all over the place, frantically juggling genres and a tone that shifts by the minute. The main problem, however, is that none of this is very interesting. Is it hard to believe and semi-entertaining that FDR, stricken with polio that rendered him paralyzed from the waist down, had several women on the side? I guess, but the film plays it totally straight with that arc of the story while using the King and Queen’s visit as a prop for multiple hot dog jokes and dashes of zaniness, such as a scene straight out of a sitcom where they have to act like they didn’t see FDR with another woman. It becomes apparent very early on that the story has nowhere to go and has absolutely nothing at stake. The cast is good enough, with Murray making a surprising role choice, but none are memorable. Richard Nelson’s screenplay would have been much more engaging had the central story been about FDR and the King’s visit, as their discussion about England’s perils is one of the few scenes in the film that works. The rest are unfocused and, worst of all, flat-out dull.
Studio: Focus Features
Length: 94 Minutes
Rating: R for brief sexuality.
Theatrical Release: December 7, 2012 (Limited)
Directed by: Roger Michell
Written by: Richard Nelson
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel