Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

16 September 2012

Telluride at Dartmouth #1

One of the perks of working for a College that is a thriving arts institution is that I get to see a few films from the Telluride Film Festival before they are given a nationwide release. I had no idea this kind of thing happened at schools like this one. (I have clearly gone to public school for too long. It is fancy here.)

The first movie I got to see here was Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson which stars Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Honestly I don't actually think that there is much more to say about this movie.

If you look to the poster at left you will see that the movie is plainly a comedy. And it is a comedy, of the whimsical, fast-and-loose-with-history type. FDR is reimagined as a charming womanizer who also manages to be the generous, forgiving father we all wish we had. And life at Hyde Park on Hudson (which is a kind of summer home for FDR) is portrayed as identical to life in a fairy tale.

All of this, of course, got on my nerves, although the film does have one really beautiful moment where the King of England (George VI, at this time, who was most recently played to great acclaim – and with lots of sentiment – by Colin Firth in The King's Speech) gets really frustrated by his stutter while talking to FDR. Goddamn this stutter, he says. And FDR thinks for a beat and says, What stutter? It brought tears to my eyes, and it's a lovely moment.

But upon reflection, this bit of fantasy felt to me as phony as the rest of the movie. I mean, it's a lovely thought, but it's hardly realistic. The film is narrated by Laura Linney's character Daisy, and neither this character, nor anyone else in the President's retinue, could have known what FDR said to King George.

The movie's larger problem is Roger Michell's direction. He is never sure whether what he's directing is a comedy or a drama. In Hyde Park on Hudson's more serious moments, one feels awkward, as though the laughter suddenly stopped. And Michell doesn't know how to feel about FDR, either. Is he a bad man? Is he a great man? Are we supposed to understand that even great men are "human"?

There is a lot of hilarity about the King and Queen eating hot dogs, and Olivia Williams' Eleanor Roosevelt is the butt of countless jokes which felt to me both unkind and rather misogynist. Samuel West and Olivia Colman are both great as the King and Queen, and I loved Elizabeth Marvel, who plays the President's assistant. Mostly, however, I was unimpressed. It was like a candy-coated historical drama in the vein of The Help or a Lasse Hallström movie. Not my cup of tea.