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Saturday
Sep222012

NYFF: "Hyde Park On Hudson" Historical Oscar Fluff

Michael C here with my first dispatch from the 50th New York Film Festival. First up is one of the Fall's two big president-starring prestige pictures.

Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is a perfect example of that particular type of high-end, finely crafted period piece that hits theaters every autumn on its way to an Oscar nomination for Costume Design. These titles exist to provide awards voters with two hours of comfort food nostalgia wrapped in a thin packaging of historical significance. In recent years this subgenre has provided us with films like Finding Neverland, Mrs. Henderson Presents, and My Week With Marilyn. This year it’s Hyde Park on the Hudson, a film on the low end of this particular style. To call it a dud would be too harsh - kinder to say that it’s a missed opportunity.

The story is narrated by Daisy (Laura Linney), FDR’s devoted mistress as well as his fifth or sixth cousin, depending on how you count. Their courtship leads to the presidential handjob scene that America was undoubtedly clamoring for, (ball’s in your court Lincoln) presented in a montage that verges on the unintentionally hilarious in the extent to which it goes to remain tastefully inoffensive. Think close-ups of wild flowers while the sound of FDR’s limo a-rockin' is heard off-screen.

The set up: With the threat of World War II looming, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) have embarked on the first ever journey to America by British royalty in the hopes a meeting with Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) at his upstate New York getaway can persuade the Americans to intervene. Other major players in the story include FDR’s busybody mother (Elizabeth Wilson), his stalwart assistant (Elizabeth Marvel) and the brash and outspoken Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) who has little patience for the pomp and etiquette of royalty. All her bows are unmistakably sarcastic.

Of course, the main attraction here is Murray...

His evolution as an actor over the last fifteen years has earned him the right to take on such a weighty role without the appearance of stunt casting. He finds a nice balance, suggesting the president’s upper crust affectations without ever straining for an impersonation. That we can never quite forget that it is Murray playing the part should not, I think, be chalked up to any weakness in his performance. The screenplay is too broad and simplistic for anyone in the cast to truly convince.

Hyde Park on Hudson also suffers from a serious suspense problem. As in there isn’t any.  It is clear from the start that the King desperately needs help and that FDR is determined to give it to him. Any political realities that Roosevelt and King George faced in bringing these two countries together are entirely absent from the movie, so we are left with the story of two kind and thoughtful leaders politely circling each other before agreeing to work together. What dramatic conflict there is comes when the Queen is horrified to learn that – gasp – hot dogs will be served at their welcome picnic. She is convinced that the Americans wish to hold the Brits up for mockery. 

Those who criticized The King’s Speech for overstating the importance of the King’s stutter will be amazed to learn just how much dramatic import Hyde Park places on this hot dog business. One would think the only thing preventing Hitler’s armies from marching unopposed across the face of the globe is the King’s ability to stop being a toffee-nosed ponce for one minute and just eat a damned wiener so the press can have their photo op already. I wish I could say that this generated much dramatic tension but I confess at no point was I concerned that kindly King Bertie would crack the waiter over the head with a golden scepter, spilling hot dogs everywhere while exclaiming, “Impudence! How dare you offend the royal nostrils with your horrid peasant food? Remove it at once or by God you will taste my boot heel!”

Once the viewer settles into the fact that Hyde Park isn’t going anywhere special the movie rolls along pleasantly enough for its 95 minute running time. West acquits himself nicely despite facing the unenviable task of following Colin Firth into the role of George VI. Linney does what she can in an underwritten character, while Colman manages to spin endless comic variation out of the Queen’s indignation with American customs (Her pained smile when Eleanor asks if she can call her by her first name is a high point). I would say Olivia Williams’ performance is a scene-stealer but the screenplay neglected to give her the material with which to steal her scenes.

Grade: C

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Reader Comments (15)

I hope that West and Colman are better than the two actors who played Bertie and Elizabeth in "W.E." They were dreadful!

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

i will have egg on my face with how long i predicted this for a wide variety of nominations i guess. still... it's always a struggle to see which of these type of films will go over. It's not like the ones that do are all that much better!

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Can't count it out for costumes or art direction, which, snark aside, are finely executed. Costumes especially. It will probably be crowded out by more popular competition but it's in the running.

But yeah, strike the whole supporting cast off the list. Nobody has enough to work with. Murray might have an outside shot in a weak year but I can't see him making it through this crowd of competition, especially if they campaign Philip Seymour Hoffman in the correct category. The material here is just too slight.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Not that it counts for much, but I can see this getting multiple Golden Globe nods assuming they consider it a comedy. Other than that, yeah, I think it's pretty much dead as far as Oscar goes. Shame, because I was really rooting for Bill Murray.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

Edwin -

Oh, yeah. It's definitely good enough to land in the comedy categories. But even there the competition is too stiff to win anything. Les Mis, Silver Linings, Sessions.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Edwin: Shame he'll never win. Personal nom count: 5, winning his 4th bid (Tootsie (Bronze, won by Rutger Hauer), Ghostbusters (4th or 5th place, won by DeNiro), Groundhog Day (Bronze, won by Bruce Campbell), Rushmore, Lost in Translation (Silver, won by Daniel Bruhl.)

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I would definitely add The Last Station as an example of that subgenre - pretty much the definition of "beige" for me, and always comes to mind when Hyde Park is mentioned.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Michael C.: At a 50% RT score on just 6 reviews and after the 2010 controversy surrounding The Tourist, I think Hyde Park on Hudson's highly unlikely in any Globe category. They're still trying to clean up their reputation, not increase it's filthiness.

Musical/Comedy Picture Guesses:
Moonrise Kingdom
Seven Psychopaths
Silver Linings Playbook
The Avengers (1.5 billion dollars WILL sway the Globes.)
5th slot tough call: This is Forty or The Sessions

Musical/Comedy Actor guesses:

John Hawkes, The Sessions
Colin Ferrell, Seven Psycopaths
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
4th and 5th Slot Wackiness for two of the following to get in: Paul Rudd, This is Forty, Frank Langella, Robot & Frank, Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, Dax Shepherd, Hit and Run or Aaron Paul, Smashed

Musical/Comedy Actress guesses:

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Leslie Mann, This is Forty
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
Scarlett Johannson, The Avengers
Kristen Bell, Hit and Run

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia, your predictions are, er, daring to say the least, but I think you really overestimate the hilarity of Smashed.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRax

From the idea of Volvagia, this is my predix for the GG:

MOTION PICTURE (DRAMA):
1. Argo
2. The Impossible
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Hitchcock
5. Django Unchained
Alt: Lincoln

The HFPA love Clooney and like Affleck. I believe Bayona's film have a better response here. Django Unchained is my wild card - They like Tarantino enough...

ACTOR (DRAMA)
1. Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
2. Denzel Washington - Flight
3. Anthony Hopkins - Hitchcock
4. Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
5. Jake Gyllenhaal - End of Watch
Alt: Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained

It would be interesting which one, the top four could have opportunity to win. Gyllenhaal is another wild card

ACTRESS (DRAMA)
1. Marion Cotillard - Rust & Bone
2. Naomi Watts - The Impossible
3. Keira Knightley - Anna Karenina
4. Helen Mirren - Hitchcock
5. Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games
Alt: Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed

Even if her performance is in French language, the HFPA could love to hear her speech, because her first victory was at the moment of writer's strike. Watts could win if The Impossible is a hit for HFPA. WIth Mirren in contention, i'm less confident in Knightley's chances for winning even for nomination. The fifth spot is anyone's guess - Adams, Winstead, Lawrence...-. I think Lawrence will be this year's double nominee

MOTION PICTURE (COMEDY/MUSICAL)
1. Les Misérables
2. Silver Linings Playbook
3. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
4. Magic Mike
5. The Avengers
Alt: This is 40

The prize is between Weinstein Company and Universal. I can see easily Magic Mike nominated here -The reviews are good enough, it has "prestige" with Soderbergh involved, the BO success, the "cool" factor and being lead by one of the men of the moment-.

ACTOR (COMEDY/MUSICAL)
1. Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables
2. Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
3. John Hawkes - The Sessions
4. Channing Tatum - Magic Mike
5. Tommy Lee Jones - Hope Springs
Alt: Mark Ruffalo - The Avengers

The top 3 are in contention for winning, but I put money for Jackman's victory. Tatum has two films -Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street- for contention here, but I think MM will be his ticket for GG.

ACTRESS (COMEDY/MUSICAL):
1. Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
2. Judi Dench - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
3. Meryl Streep - Hope Springs
4. Barbra Streisand - The Guilt Trip
5. Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Alt: Leslie Mann - This is 40

If Frances Ha was acquitted by another studio, I put Gerwig higher, because IFC films is terrible at campaign, but at least for the nomination Rudin factor is important enough at the GG.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
3. Ewan McGregor - The Impossible
4. Russell Crowe - Les Misérables
5. Matthew McConaughey - Magic Mike
Alt: Alan Arkin - Argo

The HFPA love the stars... Anyone could win here.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables
2. Maggie Smith - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
3. Scarlett Johansson - Hitchcock
4. Samantha Barks - Les Misérables
5. Nicole Kidman - The Paperboy
Alt: Anne Hathaway - The Dark Knight Rises

Hathaway's to lose, at least at this moment, even there's still the possibility for a double nomination here for her Selina Kyle. They love Kidman and Johansson after all.

DIRECTOR:
1. Ben Affleck - Argo
2. Tom Hooper - Les Misérables
3. David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
4. Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
5. Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
Alt: Juan José Bayona - The Impossible

I still don't know, who's winning here...

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

Maybe I overestimate Cotillard, but the reviews after TIFF and Telluride, her "homage" in Telluride and this year Hollywood Film Award for Best Actress, give me more hope for Cotillard's prospects... Again, Watts could easily win the GG, especially if "The Impossible" is a hit by HFPA

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

Rax: Maybe, but if there's no one else above a certain quality level that's even close to the category, the Globes are fairly free wheeling on stretching the definition of comedy to such an extent that they should maybe have a dedicated dramedy category. Thus, as much of a stretch as it is, I can still see it being an official Globe nomination in the "comedy" category.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I thought NYFF started next week...

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

presidential handjob scene . . . ball’s in your court

I see what you did there.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

Volvagia: My fault. I wasn't aware it's a dramedy. I had only seen clips which made it seem like a heavy drama. It could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I would definitely bet on the Avengers not happening, though.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRax
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