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Bill Murray kills it as Roosevelt, but Hyde Park on Hudson doesn’t do his performance justice

click to enlarge Bill Murray, somewhere between FDR and Hunter S. Thompson.
  • Bill Murray, somewhere between FDR and Hunter S. Thompson.

For some reason known only to the folks at the Golden Globes, Bill Murray got a nomination for his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this film, under the category of “Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.” But despite some comedic moments, and even though the preview trailers make the film look all light and funny and bubbly,

or some reason known only to the folks at the Golden Globes, Bill Murray got a nomination for his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this film, under the category of “Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.” But despite some comedic moments, and even though the preview trailers make the film look all light and funny and bubbly, Hyde Park on Hudson is neither a musical nor a comedy.

It’s an historical period piece, set mostly on FDR’s summer estate in rural New York during the summer of 1939. World events, such as the beginnings of WWII were weighing down the polio-stricken FDR, who got around in a wheelchair or on crutches, or was sometimes picked up and carried by a burly assistant, or was actually able to drive a specially outfitted, hand-controlled convertible.

He drove around a lot that summer, often accompanied by the newest in a line of social secretaries, this one named Daisy (Laura Linney), FDR’s frumpy, old-maidish fifth (or sixth) cousin, with whom he was to begin another in a line of casual affairs. Yup, the crippled man of fireside chat fame apparently did quite well with the ladies, right under the nose of his powerful and pushy and apparently estranged wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams, Murray’s love interest way back in Rushmore).

The script also takes in the visit to the estate that summer by George and Elizabeth, the king and queen of England — the same stuttering fellow seen a couple of years ago in The King’s Speech, played here by Samuel West.

But not much really happens in the film. There’s a lot of talking, plenty of checking out the bucolic scenery, and too many missed opportunities for dramatic development. For instance, it could have been interesting to delve into whatever was left of the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor. But that part is glossed over.

Murray stands above the material here. His FDR is a guy you want to talk with, perhaps have a drink with; if you were a woman, he’s someone you might want to have a fling with. The film’s best scene is a wonderfully written late-night drinking session with the president and the king. The rest is pleasant, lightweight, pretty much forgettable. But any foodies out there will surely get a kick out of what’s to be learned about hot dogs. 

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