Video Verdict: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

Bill Murray plays US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson.”

Bill Murray plays US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson.”

It’s another slow week on home video with a lightweight historical drama being the most noteworthy new title.

Hyde Park on the Hudson

1½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for brief sexuality
Universal
Available on: on demand

“Hyde Park on Hudson” is one of the more bizarre releases to hit video in recent months. It sports an A-list cast led by Bill Murray and Laura Linney, and it centers on a key period in the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The movie also has a capable director in Roger Michell, the man who made the outstanding 2002 thriller “Changing Lanes” and the even better 1999 romantic comedy “Notting Hill.” Traditionally, a historical drama backed by that level of talent could expect attention during movie awards season. “Lincoln” is the ideal example. Director Steven Spielberg’s much-lauded drama about the 16th president of the United States received 12 Oscar nominations. But “Hyde Park” is the anti-“Lincoln.”

Where the Spielberg drama soars, Michell’s lightweight look at American history is so messy and ill-conceived that it plays like a parody of itself. How does a film with so much on-paper potential fail so utterly? The problems begin with the Richard Nelson screenplay, an oddly structured work that aims to enlighten viewers about U.S.-British relations in the days leading up to World War II. The movie fails to realize that ambition for several reasons, one of which is Nelson’s inexplicable fascination with hot dogs. The final act of “Hyde Park” is centered on a picnic where King George VI of England is invited to dine with FDR. During the picnic, wieners are served and viewers are asked to believe that this is a defining moment in U.S.-British relations. In reality, the choice of food was as inconsequential as Michelle Obama’s bangs.

The focus on hot dogs does, however, maintain the general course of “Hyde Park,” which is all about minutiae. If there’s one thing Michell finds more interesting than hot dogs, it’s FDR’s supposed sexual relationship with his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. Building a picture around presidential impropriety is nothing new, but “Hyde Park” dubiously centers itself on suppositions that many believe to be false. There are scholars, in fact, who argue that a sexual encounter between Daisy and FDR is extremely unlikely.

Nevertheless, Michell spends much of the film painting FDR as not only a womanizer, but a ruthless cad. One can, of course, forgive filmmakers for taking liberties in a fictionalized history, but one can also hope for good taste.

The flaws in “Hyde Park” are particularly obvious because the cast is so much better than the material. Murray is typically terrific, or at least as terrific as one can be given the version of FDR that he was asked to portray. His work earned the movie it’s only major awards recognition, a best actor Golden Globe nomination.

Linney is also a talent, but she portrays Daisy as a mousy, forgettable woman who is mostly in awe of her famous cousin. That makes her character and her supposed relationship with the president exceedingly dull.

With so little to invest in from a character standpoint, viewers must turn to the subplot about the King of England’s hotdog picnic. That’s hardly the stuff of political legend.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Michell and producer Kevin Loader.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Sorcerer and the White Snake”: Chinese martial arts movie starring Jet Li as a sorcerer-monk who battles an ancient demon. Directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung.

“Planet Ocean”: Documentary film focused on the bodies of water that make up much of our planet’s surface. Using aerial and underwater photography, directors Yann-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot explore our natural world and consider the important relationship that humans have with the sea. Narrated by Josh Duhamel.

“Gate of Hell”: This drama from 1953 is noteworthy as the first Japanese color film to be released outside of its native country. The movie, about a samurai who courts a married woman, won the Palme d’Or at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival and received an honorary Academy Award for best foreign language film. This freshly restored video release comes courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa.

“Family Ties” – The Sixth Season: Second-to-last season of the 1980s sitcom about former hippies (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross) raising children during the conservative Reagan years. The program is remembered particularly fondly as the launching point of Michael J. Fox’s career. In the show, Fox plays Alex P. Keaton, a staunch young Republican.

“Boss” – Season Two: This drama, about a corrupt Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) battling a degenerative brain disease, was cancelled. That means fans have to turn to this home video release to revisit the final 10 episodes.

“Sexy Evil Genius”: Dark comedy about a group of people drawn to a downtown bar by a woman they all used to date. Katee Sackhoff, Michelle Trachtenberg, Anthony Michael Hall, William Baldwin and Seth Green star.

“Craig Shoemaker – Daditude”: Showtime comedy special featuring 82 minutes of Shoemaker’s trademark humor.

“Gabriel Iglesias – Aloha Fluffy”: Iglesisas comedy special taped at the Hawaii Theatre Center in Honolulu. The DVD includes a number of extras, including a 25-minute featurette that was shot before and after the taping of the special.

“Best of Latino Laugh Festival”: Collection of stand-up routines from more than 15 top-tier Latino comics, including Paul Rodriguez, Felipe Esparza, John Mendoza and the late Greg Giraldo.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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