James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Review (Blu-ray): HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)

A crashing, offensive bore, Hyde Park on Hudson features a mostly charmless, flat Bill Murray perf as that most iconic of 20th century American presidents, FDR, as he hosts the king and queen of England (yes, the stuttering king—again) at a Hudson River retreat, i.e., the president’s mother’s house. The stakes? How the royals will take to being served hot dogs at a picnic FDR has planned.

Yes.

Hyde Park 2

It was the hand job.

But that’s only the subplot—the principal narrative is driven (and horribly, thuddingly narrated by) a thankless, thinly characterized spinster and cousin of the great leader, Daisy (Laura Linney), whose existential crisis comes when she discovers that the handjobs she provides FDR on their drives in the country (reluctantly at first, but not too reluctantly) make her only one of three or four women who ‘service’ the American leader while his unappealing bull-dyke wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams, a kind of polar-opposite Rushmore reunion with Murray) is off doing her lesbian stuff. That’s sort of how it’s all portrayed—seriously.

Handjobs? But wait, aren’t Daisy and FDR . . . cousins? And didn’t FDR’s mother call her to come and ‘relieve the president’s stress?’

Hot dogs?

Cousins?

Mother-arranged handjobs?

What is this perverted nonsense?

The real story, however, isn’t royal hot dog eating: Will Daisy accept her role, which further defines her life as a caregiver (her only job in life seems to be in taking care of her geriatric mother), which in this case involves being a third string handjob giver? Will FDR . . . do what? Acknowledge the handjobs? Acknowledge her place in the pecking order of mistresses? Actually thank her for the servicing and for taking her servile, subhuman place in the pecking order as an otherwise useless handjob giver with quiet dignity (which is what she’s told to do by one of the other comfort ladies)?

[SPOILER ALERT]

In the end Daisy seems cheerful and accepting of her place in history, which in this case entails a supremely minor role (handjobs) in the course of world events: after the royals enjoy their hot dogs, this somehow seems to cement the diplomatic ‘special relationship’ that leads to the successful Allied prosecution of WW2—get it? ‘Special relationship?’ That’s how Daisy’s card describes her wistfully warm memories of her handjobs with FDR, of which she seems essentially proud.

[END SPOILER]

I don’t know where to begin to describe on how many levels this movie seems offensive—in its conception, execution, and subtext, or attitudes about women and sexuality, or in reducing a key moment in world history—an alliance between two great world powers to defeat a growing existential threat—to putting mustard on red, phallic hot dogs that a stuttering, upper class twit must shove between his blueblooded lips, or in simply being dull for a mercifully brief 85 minutes of running time.

Wait, I see: Perhaps the hot dog bit is emphasized because the real stakes are whether Daisy will move from handjobs to more oral methods of pleasuring the wealthy, elite person of ultimate and extreme privilege that FDR represents, who suffers no consequences for any of his behavior, which frankly makes him seem like a cheerfully genteel sexual predator. Check.

Hyde Park 1

She’s my Rushmore. She’s mine, too, Max. But which one?

So maybe I’ve already typed enough about Hyde Park on Hudson. Other than appealing production design and cinematography, there’s precious little to praise about this movie, which pains me: I find Murray and Linney both to be a terrific actors, but this piece of limp-noodle, lazy Oscar bait offers little for them to do that’s terribly memorable or remarkable, not even a decent FDR impression or a handjob money shot. Weak sauce. Very low recommendation on this one.

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

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