Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fail to the Chief: HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

One of the lousiest films in recent memory, Hyde Park on Hudson is a visually impoverished period piece of little consequence. I could imagine a perfectly fine film to be made out of the story of a 1939 meeting between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England in upstate New York, but this is most certainly not that film. In the hands of director Roger Michell (he of bland, irritating romantic comedies Notting Hill and Morning Glory) and screenwriter Richard Nelson, the true historical events are turned into the airiest, blandest concoction imaginable. This is a thinly written barely-there 94 minutes, a treacly, atonal disaster that shuffles its ignominious way through a painfully uneventful and unpersuasive series of half-realized events.

Told through the point of view of Daisy, FDR’s distant cousin, the film does its best to skirt around what little is interesting about the story it recounts. It’s a love affair presented without passion. It’s a meeting of heads of state on the eve of global conflict presented without suspense. It’s a weekend in a mansion in the midst of a global depression presented without any reflection of economic or sociopolitical realities. No, it all is treated like the mildest possible farce, a lukewarm sub-soap opera comedy of errors that’s mostly error and entirely comedy free. In fact, in writing the previous sentence I felt bad about tarnishing farce, soap opera, and comedy of errors by even mentioning them in connection to this film, even if only to demonstrate how little it manages to accomplish.

It’s all enough to make one wonder what scared the filmmakers away from actually doing something with their material. As is, the whole thing just sits up there on the screen, inert from frame one. Michell has somehow even coaxed the wonderful, idiosyncratic Bill Murray into this mess, in the lead role no less. He does a passable FDR impression, I suppose, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the script gives him little to do. Worse still are the film’s attempts to mine some comedy out of the president’s medical problems, framing an early interior moment of guest-greeting with a window in the background that allows the foreground to be interrupted by the sight of the president being carried around the back of the house. Ha ha, we’re supposed to think; FDR can barely walk. How delightful?

The rest of the floundering cast is made up by such generally dependable performers as Laura Linney, who plays Daisy about as well as a shallow characterization with copious terrible narration to recite can be played, and Olivia Williams who wears a nice set of false chompers as Eleanor Roosevelt. As the King and Queen of England, Samuel West and Olivia Colman, adequate though they are, can’t help but pale in comparison to Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayals of these people in The King’s Speech. If one were to cynically suppose that this cinematic endeavor was nothing more than a late attempt to draft off of the success of that Oscar-winner of a couple years ago, I would not be inclined to disagree.

As the film drags itself through a seemingly endless runtime, thinking it is finding much humor in a King in a bathing suit or eating a hot dog and much poignancy in a thoroughly unconvincing love affair, the picture begins to take on the distinct feeling of a film with nothing to do. It’s a film without a point of view, without any point at all, come to think of it. With little to say and no reason found to say it, I can’t help but feel that this film is about as useless a film as I’ve ever seen. 

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