Every once in a rare while a film comes along that receives near universal critical scorn, often failing at the box office. Then a funny thing happens. Time goes by and the foggy glass that is the present turns in the crystal clear hindsight, and opinions begin to turn. One example that comes to mind is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which was nominated for a Razzie for worst director. That may surprise you, because man consider the film to be a classic and a masterpiece.
I cherish finding these films, even more when I haven’t read any of the reviews or heard anything about the film. So while I was strolling through my local library, I noticed this sunny little DVD with Bill Murray on the cover, and took a chance on it. I’m happy to say that Hyde Park on Hudson turned out to be one of these films.
Laura Linney stars at the daydreaming Daisy, the fifth cousin of FDR, who is played by the doppelganger Bill Murray. At the start of the film Daisy is whisked away from her country home off to Roosevelt’s mother’s estate, at the titular Hyde Park. The President shows his cousin his stamp collection and is soon getting a handjob from her. Yeah, that beat took my for a surprise too.
Traditionally, this type of film would focus solely on Daisy’s peculiar relationship, but the film breaks off from their time together and instead re-imagines a visit from King George VI to the estate. This meeting a was a historical moment. England was on the brink of war and desperately needed America’s help. The meeting was so important it was the first time a reigning monarch visited the USA.
As the film progresses these two plotlines interweave, sometimes creating a disjointed tone as random voiceovers from Daisy come and go. We see the King and Queen’s trepidation about having to eat a hot dog at a picnic. Meanwhile, Daisy discovers she’s not the President’s only secret.
Much of the criticism I read after watching the film focused on the disjointed nature. This I concede could be seen as a weakness. But the vitriol hurled at it made me do a double take. The A.V. Club, whose website inspired this blog, named it one of the worst films of 2012. They listed among their grievances the saccharine score and the off putting hand job. How dare this film offend?
Whatever reservations you may have about the film, it simply doesn’t belong a worst of list, just going by the strength of the performances alone. Billy Murray is invisible in his role, adapting FDR’s speech and physical habits. Thankfully he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Laura Linney also works magic, often conveying her emotional state wither just her eyes. And then there’s Samuel West, who steals the show with his King George. You’d be hard pressed not to smile as he, with a mouth full, exclaims he’ll have another hot dog.
But aside from the performances, what took me by surprise was how well made the film was. Its shot with a steadicam, and looms around the house and estate, providing a feel of intimacy, as if the audience is spying on the characters’ interactions. There some stunning shots of a field of flowers, and a dreamlike moonlit night sky. It’s good stuff.
So why the hate? the film, while not necessarily great (which really depends on who’s making that declaration), is solid, with Oscar-caliber performances. I just can’t see how it warrants a 5.8 on IMDB. Nonetheless, my go to critic Roger Ebert had much love for the film, rating it 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Really, the real test of whether you’ll like the film or not is by asking yourself how well do you enjoy the film’s niches. Hyde Park is a aimed at a small and older audiences, one who’ll find nostalgia from watching the film. The soundtrack is filled with vintage 30s songs, and play to the crowd. You might even call it Oscar Bait, however useless that term might be. Whatever your opinion, at least do yourself a favor and honestly ask after watching, “Doesn’t this film deserve better?”. I rest my case.