Sunday, January 13, 2013
Hyde Park on Hudson Review
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON:
FDR, we are told by his fifth cousin Daisy in a narration, was just a man who wanted to relax. He is old yet spry as he charges through the forest in a specially-adapted automobile, which he explains is a lot easier to drive. This is just one of many getaways that Roosevelt arranges to unburden himself from the public eye. Bill Murray as FDR portrays a man who is happy, confident, smiles, and walks with a jaunt. In private, however Roosevelt was a quiet, sad, man who did not walk, but in fact used a wheelchair, and sometimes crutches because of polio.
The film shows Roosevelt’s struggle with disability and intimacy away from his public duties as president. His private getaway is called Hyde Park on Hudson, where his mother and many of his caretakers live. The movie hints strongly that Eleanor and FDR’s mother took care of him largely, and that he resented it. Eleanor was always sending out “spies” (caretakers and wait staff.) to see if he had his eye on another woman. This time it was Daisy.
Publicly, as the film opens England is struggling in the war and FDR announces his intentions to help. The King and Queen visit FDR in Hyde Park. Much of the film’s comedy comes from the culture clash of England and America at the time. FDR has scheduled that they eat hot dogs at the meeting. FDR reassures the King of course, that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a picnic.
Now, here we see FDR as a master of public perception. The King has a speech impediment, and is worried that he’ll look weak. “You know how I know they don’t see that in us?” FDR says smiling, as he shifts from his chair to behind a desk, so that he creates the illusion of standing. “Because that’s not what they’re looking for.” It was a heartfelt moment.
FDR had his own kind of escapism, aside from his life dominated by caretakers and a perception of weakness; he made himself a hero for the nation. In one scene, for example, you see FDR being carried to his car, and reporters actually wait to take photos of him inside the car with the king.
Of course, at the heart of the film is FDR’s private affair with Daisy. The meeting with the king is only the public side. The film seems divided in two, and addresses both parts from the standpoint of disability issues. How can FDR remain strong, in spite of his polio? How can he maintain intimacy, and a private life, despite being hen-pecked by Eleanor and his mother. At one point, his mother angrily suggests that he shouldn’t be drinking a martini in his condition , and he screams: “I’m the President!” He just wants to be allowed to do what everyone else is, especially with being the president and being in power publicly.
I felt that the message of the film was not so much that FDR had affairs, but that everyone has their own demons, but he still made people see him as a leader. He simply ignored England and America’s past, and made a bright future. He knew how to project a strong image. He was perpetually leaning against a wall, sitting in a chair or behind a desk. Most importantly, he knew how to make people see what he wanted. It was very inspiring to see him manage his own image as strongly as he did; even as he cursed his polio and the king cursed his speech impediment: they related by getting beyond their struggles and creating something greater.
Finally, a note on Bill Murray (my favorite.) as FDR. FDR was probably taller than Murray, but other than that he seems to be the perfect choice. You really buy that he’s FDR. I was worried going into the film that I’d only see him trying to be FDR. But, he pulls it off. Those sad eyes, and that cheerful way of smiling made me believe his role. This role makes use of Murray as a comedian and a dramatic actor. And even presents a president who was in historical fact, a strong disabled man: a rarity in contemporary film when only super-powered mutants and aliens present me, with almost the same comparison: There is no trace of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter here. Only FDR triumphantly conquering his own true inner demons to inspire others.