Jan. 10, 2013 - Issue #899: The games we play
Hyde Park on HudsonHyde Park on Hudson, ostensibly built from a number of unearthed letters and journals belonging to one Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), distant cousin and later so much more to FDR, is a comedy light to a fault. It's sort of offensively inoffensive in its recounting of mild scandal, the script refusing to let anyone be confronted with much of anything, instead letting breezy comedy gently try to tickle and whisk us on by.
Our central love story is well-cast, but they're only working with so much here—Suckley was looking for someone to charm her, and FDR was a charmer. Still, Laura Linney's naivete is unforced and unhurried, while Bill Murray's chair-bound president is quietly effective: his deft skills at bringing out the best of those around them, putting them at ease, comes out with simple gravitas from Murray. There is a simple, quiet chemistry to their screen time.
There's also a sideplot about the King and Queen of England coming to visit to beg America to join their side in the approaching World War, and if that narrative thread has a more traction than the main one (some actual drama, in King George's worries of winning over America with a stammer, and the Queen's fears of being seen as naive and made fun of), it seems more a distraction to the much more interesting core relationship already present. Instead, much screentime is spent with the visiting Brit royalty worried about the meaning of "hot dogs."
It's all just so damn soft and polite, from its comedy to its drama: the only confrontational outburst Suckley gets quite literally happens in her head. Meanwhile, the meatier issues present—having a presidential affair, and later, a massive loss of trust—never gets probed for any sort of depth. Never do director Roger Michell, who hurries from one beat to the next, and writer Richard Nelson tries to dig deeper, or explore any of that that ambiguity.There's a handjob scene that's somehow awkward, unsexy and used as a moment of big sentimental connection between our leads. It's also less interesting than it sounds here. For all wistful sentiments and sneaky romance, even well-handled by its primary cast, it's hard to care about Hyde Park when it refuses to examine its own depths.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Directed by Roger Michell
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