Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
Starring Laura Linney, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West
Directed by Roger Michell
This year has been a mixed bag in film. I’ve disliked movies that have other critics floored while forgiving others that either don’t live up to the hype or have been vilified since day one. Hyde Park on Hudson can fit on the latter two columns, that mouthful of a title already on Time Magazine’s Worst Movies of 2012 list. It can’t be that bad, can it?
Daisy (Linney), a woman who lost her family fortune during the Depression, is summoned to her sixth cousin and neighbour’s mansion. She accepts the invitation that closer family members have turned down, which is strange because this sixth cousin happens to be FDR (Murray). She gets chauffeured to a Delano mansion within New York State because somehow the White House wasn’t in use. She walks through press where the audience can hear copious amounts of German, and gets access to his inner chambers and shows her his stamp collection. That is not a pun. Yet.
The punny moments actually begin when he drives her to a field sans police escort and slowly makes her give him a hand job. In this scene, the music is practically non-existent, the camera moves back but you can still see the awkward body movements. I’ve had problems with over-directed films for the past two years but at least those movies have a potential or mood that I can latch to. This one is under-directed, where the cultural nuances or character interactions aren’t given their deserved emotional significance. Performances here could have been great under the lens of a competent director. The only sense of direction we get is when the camera circles on characters on the mansion’s front lawn, which has more of a dizzying effect. There’s also this general feeling that others have picked up that the movie doesn’t choose a solid perspective or point of view. To me, this is Daisy’s movie but just like the truncated feel to the movie, she turned into someone too oblivious to be human.
And I get it. Great men and women have flaws. Franklin says it himself in a later scene when King George VI of England (West) and his wife, a Queen Elizabeth (Colman) visit the American Hyde Park to solidify an alliance between the two historied nations. Franklin says that the public probably would think less of them because they either have polio or stutters or urges. But here’s the thing – flawed men and women who philandered or have daddy issues or were alcoholics also have weathered international crises. The same thing goes for the female characters like Elizabeth, and Eleanor Roosevelt (Williams), who in life are educated advocated for progress. Or, if we do more research about Daisy, whose real name is Margaret Suckley, she was a well-balanced person who collaborated with him on projects in New York State. But here, they’re shown as the woeful stereotypes of overbearing wives or in Daisy’s case, a myopically love struck mistress.
Instead of balancing between these two aspects of sexual beings who gets stuff done with their work, we only see the latter. We don’t have a respectful biopic, here the movie gives us something that’s only worthy of frivolous gossip. It’s even insulting that a movie with this tone was made, degrading the legacies of those who have accomplished so much. These characters are so maligned that it makes Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito’s atrocities seem tolerable.
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