Bill Murray as FDR in new DVD and Blu-ray

By Rich Heldenfels Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Laura Linney as Daisy (left), Bill Murray as FDR and Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt in Roger Michell's historical tale Hyde Park On Hudson. (Nicola Dove/Focus Features)

For those of us who remember Bill Murray as the guy in Stripes, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack and Meatballs, the idea of him playing Franklin D. Roosevelt requires a mental adjustment.

To be fair, the former Saturday Night Live star has ventured into more challenging acting territory in films like Broken Flowers and Moonrise Kingdom, and he is quite good in both films. Still, the idea of him playing the president who guided the U.S. through the Depression and World War II sounds at first odd — until you see, again, how well he inhabits the role. The larger problem is the movie in which he does so.

The film is Hyde Park on Hudson (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo), an odd and rather glum tale built on Roosevelt’s relationship with a distant cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney). From what I have read, there was definitely an emotional attachment between the two, but the physical element included in the movie appears to be speculative.

At first enlisted to help around the president’s New York home, Daisy soon finds herself in that more erotic connection to the president — a connection that is complicated by Roosevelt’s being married (Olivia Williams plays Eleanor) and by a visit to the home by the King and Queen of England.

The royals’ visit creates a tonal shift in the movie, from a somewhat somber romance (including a startling scene of seduction by FDR) to a more amiable comedy, but the FDR-Daisy situation remains, a bit sour and sorrowful. Linney, who seldom makes a foolish move as a screen actress, is fine in the early going, both in her girlish joy at the president’s attention and her puzzling over her proper place among Roosevelt’s women. And she has a splendid moment of rage where, even if the movie as a whole had not sold me, I thought, wow, she’s really giving it to the president.

Besides Linney, the scene works because of Murray’s way of playing FDR, especially the emotional elusiveness that marked the man (not to mention his knack of making almost everyone he talked to believe he was agreeing with them). But that moment also adds to the gloom afflicting a movie that was sold as a lighter piece. Reviews were for the most part negative, especially for its treatment of history; one writer called it “a grubby little movie about a shallow little man.”

Extras include deleted scenes, a making-of piece, and audio commentary by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader.

You may remember the fine documentary Bill W., about Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, which was shown in Akron as part of the 2012 Cleveland International Film Festival, and then had a theatrical run later in the year. The film, part of which was shot in Akron, is now available on DVD through www.page124.com, the site of the production company.

While the film includes the well-known story of the founding of A.A., it is especially interesting when it looks at Wilson’s life after the group became a success. Though he was held up as an icon, Wilson himself never forgot that he was a recovering drunk and a flawed person. Within a decade of A.A.’s founding, Wilson felt he had done all he could for the organization.

Moreover, he felt he was not making progress in his own spiritual journey and began looking at other avenues, including experimentation with LSD. The movie works very well at portraying someone who was far more complicated than some tales have made him, who found a marvelous way to help others — but who never stopped searching for more ways to help others and himself.

Besides the film, the DVD has eight additional scenes along with material from Wilson’s letters and entries from his wife Lois’ diaries.

The basic DVD sells for $19.99; Page 124 also offers it in packages adding different posters for $29.99 and $39.99. Amazon.com has it as an online video, $14.99 to buy and $3.99 to rent.

Down video road: Identity Thief, the comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on June 4, including in an unrated edition. Dwayne Johnson’s action movie Snitch arrives a week later.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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