Reel Life mini-review:
"Hyde Park on Hudson"
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The highlight of Roger Michell's misguided historical drama "Hyde Park on Hudson" is the unlikely but inspired casting of Chicago's Bill Murray as President Franklin Roosevelt, who, as we discover, maintained a carnal relationship with his distant cousin Daisy (played by the always amazing Laura Linney) while executing his duties as commander-in-chief.
Screenwriter Richard Nelson had ample source material to work with: a treasure trove of letters written by Daisy and discovered after her death at the age of 100.
Nelson constructs a story told exclusively from Daisy's point of view, a device so limiting and stagnant that the only time "Hyde Park" jumps to life is when it abandons Daisy's boring first-person narration and ventures into areas she couldn't possibly know about.
That includes the movie's showcase scene in which Roosevelt and Britain's king, Bertie (Samuel West), sit down for a heart-to-heart chat in the president's study at his stately New York retreat late one night.
The king and his queen (Olivia Colman) have come to America to secure Roosevelt's support in the growing world war. In addition to his stutter (Bertie was the subject of the Oscar-winning "The King's Speech" by Tom Hooper), the king, it turns out, suffers from just as much insecurity as the commoners.
The scene brilliantly illustrates FDR's political gift for statesmanship, for the president takes Bertie under his American eagle wing. He confides in the king, reassures him and, in a few minutes' time, becomes a de facto father figure to Bertie.
West brings unexpected vulnerability to the king. But Murray is the prize performance here, presenting Roosevelt as a confident, avuncular leader, always with a clever or comforting comment delivered with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
Then it's back to Daisy, riding around in the postcard-perfect New York state countryside on one of the president's infamous wild and speeding car trips.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (the name of a small town near Roosevelt's home) possesses a welcome comic flair, which Murray exploits with subtle glee as he maneuvers Daisy -- and other women -- around his micromanaging mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and his sexually reserved wife (Olivia Williams).
Despite the earnest efforts of Linney to pump life and relevance into Daisy's story, Michell's drama comes off as a well-crafted cable movie with a hard-to-justify R rating.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" opens at the River East and Century Centre in Chicago, and the Evanston Century 18. Rated R for language and sexual situations. ★ ★
Reel Life film notes:
• I'll be hosting a special Daily Herald-sponsored sneak peek at Tom Cruise's new action film "Jack Reacher" Tuesday night at the Hollywood Palms Theater in Naperville. It's an invitation-only event for Daily Herald all-access subscribers as a way of saying thanks for their support.
"Jack Reacher" officially opens Friday, Dec. 21. Here's the trailer: bit.ly/LcN2VF. For our Daily Herald Subscriber Total Access members who couldn't get in to see "Jack Reacher" Tuesday, hey, we've got more fun stuff coming.
• At noon Friday, Buffalo Grove's Raymond Benson, my partner-in-crime in the Dann & Raymond Movie Club, will present a live history of James Bond movie music on "The Midday Show" on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Benson will spin some of the best tracks ever put on a 007 film, plus play a medley of Bond tunes on the piano. (He is quite the pianist.) To listen live go to wpr.org/webcasting/live.cfm or go to wpr.org/midday/ to hear the archived interview.
• Karolyn Grimes, who played the lovable ZuZu Bailey in Frank Capra's 1946 classic "It's a Wonderful Life," will host that movie in person this weekend at both the Hollywood Palms in Naperville (noon, 3:30, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.) and Hollywood Blvd. in Woodridge (4, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and at 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday).
• "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie" will be shown free at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Ogden 6 Theater, 1227 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville. Go to classiccinema.com for details.
• "Arthur Christmas" will be shown free at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Woodstock Theatre, 209 E. Main St., Woodstock. Go to classiccinema.com for details.
• That "Arthur Christmas" sure gets around. He'll also be shown free at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the York Theatre, 150 N. York St.,. Elmhurst. Go to classiccinema.com.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!