Sep 20, 2012

REVIEW: Hyde Park On Hudson

Those of us who believe Bill Murray to be God are quite sincere in our belief. How else explain the  mixture of omniscience, unflappability and infinite boredom he displayed in 1993's Groundhog Day? That role remains the best fit of his career, perfectly in keeping with our sense of Murray as a man who  knows what is about to come out of everybody's mouth before they do, pre-savoring everyone and everything with the ennui of a Puckish deity — maybe a lesser-known Greek, or one of those wine-soaked Pagan guys. Think about. There's no other explanation. It's also why his role as FDR in Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson is heaven-sent — the most seamless dramatic performance Murray has given in his career to date and the most skilled, purely pleasurable performance from an actor you are likely to see this year. It's pure bliss. Blinking, owl-like, over his pincez-nez, his voice hoisted up a register in imitation of FDR's famous patrician drawl, his martini glass brimming o'er with Wodehousian good cheer, Murray doesn't disappear into the role so much as disappear into the air of moonlit mischief that hangs over Roger Michell's charming, if slight, movie. It's an odd-jointed thing, but perfectly cast and tightly scripted, with Laura Linney as FDR's fifth or sixth cousin, Daisy, who becomes his lover after a fashion, administering a handjob to the president in his car while parked in a field. It's a strangely touching sight: Murray bobbing up and down in his Plymouth surrounded by purple thistles. Michell's movie is full of such incidental pleasures, without ever having much for them to be incidental to. Linney narrates, but the action soon sets her to one side to explore the comic niceties of having the King and Queen of England pay their first Royal visit. Did you know that the phrase "special relationship" dates to a Royal wolfing-down of hot dogs? I didn't. Plates are smashed, Royal etiquette blown a raspberry, lovers storm off and return by dawn's wan, bluish light. Then everyone wolfs down those hot dogs. Only with the score does Michell overplay his hand; as Jeremy Sams' strings surged and swooned romantically around Linney's renewed feelings, I did find myself thinking "this is a film about one woman's fight to give presidential hand jobs." But Murray doesn't flinch from the admonishment in Linney's gaze, and keeps the whole thing humming along like a game of badminton, or one of those Plymouths, a twinkly master of ceremonies, frequently confined to a wheelchair, but nevertheless giving off an air of boundless reach — you barely notice he's crippled if only because he seems to pay it so little heed himself. The complete absence of anything resembling self-pity may be the only thing standing between Murray and an Oscar, though I'm damned if I can see who else to give it to this year*. B

Hyde Park on Hudson is playing at the New York Film Festival on September 30th, October 3rd, and 8th. Tickets available here.  

* How stupid of me. Phoenix will win for banging his head against the wall in The Master.  

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