As Daniel Day-Lewis' spot-on performance in Lincoln continues to garner Oscar buzz, another presidential biopic has quietly slipped into theaters: Hyde Park on Hudson, which stars Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt. The film is set in the summer of 1939, as Roosevelt welcomes King George VI and the Queen Consort Elizabeth to his country estate in Hyde Park, New York, while he's also carrying on an affair with his cousin Margaret Suckley. (Watch a trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson below.) Like Lincoln, most of the buzz surrounding Hyde Park on Hudson has centered on Murray's performance of a legendary U.S. president. Did the longtime funnyman manage to pull it off?
"Let others slobber over Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln" — I'll take Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt, says Rex Reed at the New York Observer. Hyde Park on Hudson takes great pains to reveal the real FDR — a great leader who also happened to have "an unquenchable passion for the ladies that turned the summer White House into a hotbed of sexual shenanigans." (The film is based on the diaries of Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, played in the film by Laura Linney.) "Bill Murray simply seizes the center ring and holds one's attention from beginning to end," offering an amusing, moving, and enlightening take on the 32nd president. What else could audiences want?
For one thing, a more interesting, serious-minded film, says Joe Morgenstern at The Wall Street Journal. Murray gives a fascinating performance, but the movie itself is just off. Hyde Park on Hudson is set in 1939 — a "fateful year in the history of the world when FDR represents the free world's best hope, and here we are learning more than we needed to know about his seductive ways, his casual misogyny, and what he did with Daisy while they were listening to 'Moonlight Serenade' in his convertible in the middle of a field of flowers." Hyde Park on Hudson is "as earnest as it is ill-advised," and despite the strength of Murray's performance, the film "miniaturizes its hero in the process of humanizing him."
What hero? Hyde Park on Hudson doesn't just "portray the 32nd president as a do-nothing perv," says Dana Stevens at Slate — it also fails to reveal much of FDR's character or accomplishments. Audiences will spend much of the movie "trapped in the singularly dull romance between FDR and Daisy." And Murray disappoints, too. "I wish I could say that Bill Murray's performance was so wonderful it transcended the material, but the truth is that Murray's character never fully emerges from the fog" of this slight, disappointing movie.
Consensus: Murray is by far the best thing about Hyde Park on Hudson, but his performance isn't enough to make this strange, letdown of a biopic worth seeing.