Movie trailers are an interesting thing – show too much and you risk giving away the best parts of the movie; show too little and you risk confusing your audience and turning them away. But what happens when a trailer is completely misleading? In some instances it can work (Robert Zemeckis’ Flight marketed itself as a mystery only to really be an emotional character study), but when a film touts itself as something interesting and then proceeds to tell a completely different story during the actual feature film, that is true frustration in every sense of the word. It’s with these thoughts that I arrive at the royal screw up known as Hyde Park On Hudson, director Roger Michell’s biographical comedy-drama about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his weekend meeting with King George IV and Queen Elizabeth at his estate in upstate New York. Or at least that’s what the trailer wants you to think.
Starring the legendary Bill Murray as FDR, Hyde Park On Hudson promised to be a revealing comedy about the British monarchs’ (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) first trip to the United States, one where they would try and woo the President into helping their WWII efforts, and yet, rather unfortunately, the film is really about Daisy (Laura Linney), the President’s sixth cousin who was called to Hyde Park to help FDR clear his mind but who ended up having an affair with him instead, one of many for the sexually promiscuous President. And that’s Hyde Park On Hudson’s big, big problem – it promised to be a revealing and interesting historical dramedy but ends up being nothing more than shloppy, uninteresting melodrama. Do any of us really want to see FDR getting a hand-job from his cousin in the front seat of his car? Are we actually supposed to feel for Daisy when she becomes yet another of FDR’s mistresses and then gets jealous when she realizes just that, that she’s just another mistress? I guess my biggest question to the filmmakers would actually be, why the hell would you make this the focus of the movie?
What makes Hyde Park so damn frustrating is that the movie it promised to be – the one where King George IV and Queen Elizabeth come to seek aid from FDR by staying at his estate – is actually rather fascinating, a historical moment many of us don’t know existed and one brought to life by suitable performances and stately direction. As FDR, Murray proves once again that he is Hollywood’s best comedic dramatist, and the humble vulnerability he gives the weary, wheelchair stricken President is extremely charming, so much so that it’s no wonder FDR had so many affairs – he was irresistible, down to earth, sarcastically witty, and so on! Equally as impressive are Samuel West and Olivia Colman as the fish-out-of-water British monarchs. Instead of being a Kings Speech knockoff (West is playing the same King Colin Firth did in the Academy Award winning movie), the movie becomes The King Speech with a comical spin, and the stiff awkwardness West and Colman bring to their roles (especially over the fact that FDR is serving hot dogs at their big lunch meeting) is subtly hilarious and extremely honest. It’s really this awkward, boiling chemistry between the three of these gifted actors that drive the movie and make it not completely worthless. Seriously, try not to crack a smile when, in the movie’s best scene, Murray and West come to an understanding that though they rule different countries they are ultimately the same soul with the same obligation: duty to country.
And yet, Michell, whose direction is perfectly suitable, pushes this interesting facet of the story to the sidelines and shoves the affair between Daisy and FDR to the forefront. Why? Honestly, why? Laura Linney has long been one of my favorites, but the role of Daisy here is so shallow, so one-note (they try to make her so much more interesting than she has any right to be), and so forgettable that even the always-likeable Linney can’t do anything to save it. Did Daisy really think that she was the only one of her kind? That FDR really loved her? Sorry, folks, I just can’t get these absurd and pointless questions out of my mind. The fact of the matter is that there are no stakes regarding the affair between FDR and Daisy, and by pushing that storyline into the film’s center, the movie becomes a mess, a film whose own potential is squandered by its own bumbling decisions.
Do I have the right to be so mad over a film whose trailer is completely misleading? I guess that’s up to you to decide, but for me Hyde Park fails by being melodramatic when it promised to be smart, witty, and historically fascinating. If I knew I was getting myself into an incestuous biopic I might’ve been spared this disappointment, but when a film of such promise ends up like this, well, as I said before, that’s a royal screw up! Murray deserves better, a lot better.
Review by Zack Sharf