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ADVANCE: Hyde Park on Hudson - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Hyde Park on Hudson
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Hyde Park on Hudson is a love story about as unconventional as they come, set in a fascinating historical-political context. It's almost pointedly sweet about what really amounts to 1930s polyamory, and curiously neutral about a presidential hand job. Thankfully we're only subjected to the latter once, but we get to see those lovely upstate New York meadows many times.

Laura Linney, an actress who perhaps is incapable of not being lovely, plays Daisy, a fourth or fifth ("depending on how you count") cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- played with subdued charm by Bill Murray. Apparently FDR's mother decided he needed family around to take his mind off of work, and for reasons never adequately explained, Daisy is the closest available relative. I use the term "relative" loosely, especially considering the evolving nature of the relationship between these two.

The setting is always that of the film's title, the place the president goes to try and relax, although the house is constantly buzzing with workers of all sorts. What's more, the story revolves largely around the historic visit of King George VI ("Bertie," played with nuanced restraint by Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth, officially there as the president's guests but really there to persuade the president to help Britain in the inevitable event of another war.

The story is narrated by Daisy, who we learn at the end of the film left behind letters that revealed her "special relationship" with the president when discovered upon her death. We presume the movie is based on these letters, except of course her narration can only speak to the events to which she was witness. This makes for some awkward storytelling, given the huge number of private exchanges between the royals and the president that Daisy could never have been privy to.

There seems to be two entirely separate stories being told here: that of Daisy's relationship to FDR, and that of the royals' visit. They bear little relationship to each other beyond their occurring at the same time, but it's easy to look beyond that given how immensely enjoyable the movie is on the whole.

Honestly, as much as I love Laura Linney, I would have preferred a focus on the story about the royals' visit. Much is made of cultural misunderstandings and nervousness stemming the U.S.'s history with Britain. It's no small thing that at this time, no king of England had ever visited the U.S. This may have been 73 years ago, but that's long enough: only slightly more than a century after the War of 1812, that's still close enough for cultural memory -- and resentments -- not to have faded. Bertie is baffled by the decision to keep early-19th-century cartoons hung on the walls in his room that poke fun at British soldiers. Also, they read far too much into the decision to serve them hot dogs at a picnic during their stay -- something that turns out to mean far more, and in a good way, than they expected.

In a way, Hyde Park on Hudson is a bit less than the sum of its parts. Broadly speaking, it's not a great film. But it is a succession of great scenes. One private exchange between FDR and Bertie is exquisitely written and perfectly executed. Many other scenes come close, but the quality does vary, creating some unevenness.

But what of Daisy? Turns out, she has a lot to learn about the romantic ways of the president. I wondered about Eleanor (Olivia Williams), a woman history invites us to revere and this movie does not. She's not quite depicted as a bitch, I don't think, but rather more of a nuisance. The longtime rumors of Eleanor's lesbianism are touched on here but not expanded on; rather, in addition to secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), she is depicted here more as one of Roosevelt's many women. At least she's still outspoken and strong, which is admirable.

Roosevelt himself, so far as this movie seems to tell it, apparently couldn't keep his dick in his pants. Much like with his inability to use his legs -- it seems impossible such a person could get elected today -- the people around him, including those in romantic entanglements with him, just act as though everything is normal. In a way, I guess it is: a way of life, when lived long enough, becomes normal. This movie doesn't judge anyone, which is actually a nice touch. Even the visiting royals, who do gossip a bit amongst each other, are far more preoccupied with diplomatic relations than they are with the president's personal affairs.

And so was I, honestly. There is far more depth here in the scenes involving the visiting royals than in those with Daisy. But either way, this movie always transcends its imperfections by featuring characters in every scene who make lovely company.

Laura Linney, Bill Murray and Elizabeth Wilson create a unique presidential family in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON.

Overall: B+

Opens December 14 at the Egyptian.
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