Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray does FDR
At least that’s the story told by Hyde Park on Hudson. The real-life Daisy survived until 1991 as the archivist of FDR’s library, and after her death, diaries and letters surfaced suggesting some degree of intimacy between her and the President. Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and screenwriter Richard Nelson run as far as they dare with those suggestions. In reality FDR and the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, did lead separate sexual lives. In Hyde Park on Hudson, the President presides like a benign pasha over a small harem of admirers, measuring his favors in spoonfuls while juggling affairs of state during an economic depression and mounting global tension.
Oh, and the British king and queen are coming to his Hyde Park manor for the first ever royal visit to the U.S. FDR’s mother, in a panic, borrows Mrs. Astor’s china for the occasion. The politically correct Eleanor insists on American Indian performers to entertain the visitors and a hotdog luncheon is served on the lawn. Daisy shows George VI how to apply mustard to his wiener with a knife. World War II is only two months away.
A mildly charming, fluffy mix of fact and fancy, Hyde Park on Hudson is interesting because it is set in a time when the press knew how to keep secrets. Known but left unspoken was the strained presidential marriage and even FDR’s inability to walk without the support of crutches or bodyguards. In Hyde Park on Hudson, the boys of the press are content to linger in the anterooms of the gentleman-in-chief. When FDR asks for no photographs of him and the king in their bathing suits, the boys happily comply.
Bill Murray is made up to resemble Roosevelt and has mastered many of his dapper gestures, dabbing the air with a cigarette holder while holding court. But he falls short trying to emulate the patrician ebullience of the President’s voice. As Daisy, Laura Linney has the advantage; playing an obscure historical figure that left no impression on the public’s imagination, her performance cannot be compared and cross-checked with the record of the real person. Linney embodies Daisy with an awkward trepidation that gives way to dewy romance, petulance at what she takes for rejection and, at last, easy acceptance of her modest role in the supporting cast of FDR’s performance as statesman, politician and wartime leader.
As for the stiff-lipped caricatures of George VI and his queen, Elizabeth, the royals received a better account in The King’s Speech, a considerably more powerful film that concludes at the same perilous moment in history as Hyde Park on Hudson.
Home Movies/DVD & Blu-ray
■ Liberal Arts
One of the best college movies (and romantic comedies) in years, Liberal Arts stars writer-director Josh Radnor as Jesse, a bored 35-year-old admissions counselor in NYC. While visiting a favorite professor at his Midwest alma matter, Jesse slips into friendship-attraction with Zibby, a remarkably mature yet unsurprisingly young 19-year-old student. Liberal Arts is insightful and funny about cultural expectations, the search for soul mates and the love of books. It also captures the heady sense of college years when any future seems possible.
■ The Invisible War
According to U.S. government statistics, 20 percent of women in the armed forces have been sexually assaulted—a number that doesn’t include those who won’t speak up for fear of reprisal. Kirby Dick’s documentary collects stories from victims as well as military investigators frustrated by a system that places authority in these cases with commanding officers, who are often the perpetrators or protectors of the culprits. When interviewed for The Invisible War, Pentagon brass continued to minimize the problem.
■ Lapland Odyssey
A slacker gets an ultimatum from his girlfriend: buy a cable box in time for the broadcast of Titanic—or we’re through! It’s no easy task in frozen Lapland at the northern fringe of Finland. The slacker and his doofus buddies spend a wild night scrounging up cash in this funny Finnish comedy. Despite the local color of reindeer and saunas, the indie irony will be familiar to American audiences.