This is a light-hearted look at Franklin D. Roosevelt as he begins an affair with his distant cousin, Margaret Stuckly in 1939. She comes to his place to stay for the weekend. It’s not just any weekend though. The King and Queen of England are going to be the President’s honored guests. At first, Margaret and the President’s relationship is a strong friendship, but after she gives him a handjob in his car while on a country drive, they become temporary lovers.
This movie is supposed to be (at least I thought) told from the point of view of Margaret. Well, at least it begins that way. We get some pretty bland scenes of a creepy kind of flirting between the main characters. Then they start their affair. It’s not particularly engaging or interesting. Once the Kind and Queen show up though, the focus shifts entirely. All of a sudden in becomes about the King of England, as most of the middle portion of the movie is seen through his eyes. Margaret is just shoved in the background. Again, the focus shifts back to Margaret in the final act. And to make things even worse, the film features Margaret narrating almost every little thing in the movie, often stating the obvious. It’s lazy screenwriting, and I felt that it pandered to its audience.
Laura Linney is fine as usual. She’s one of my favorite working actresses today, but her character is such a wallflower. That’s not a crime, but she has no dimension. Bill Murray isn’t very good here as President Roosevelt. He gives a kind of hammy performance that one would expect on the stage. It’s very theatrical. I never once believed him as this character. Compare his performance to that of Daniel Day-Lewis in LINCOLN, who got completely lost in the character. That was a believable performance. Not once did I see Franklin D. Roosevelt here. I only saw Bill Murray acting. Samuel West and Olivia Colman do a decent job as the King and Queen, but since THE KING’S SPEECH only came out 2 years ago, comparisons are unavoidable, and compared to those performances, these don’t quite live up to the task. My favorite performance was by Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt. It helped that she was the best character in the movie too. She gives a lot of weight to the role, and she really outshines the other actors in the film.
Director Roger Michell fails to find a way to make this story engaging. It’s a bit of a bore. Even though it was just over 90 minutes, it felt a lot longer than that. The biggest problem with the film is that you never know who to care about. Just who is this story supposed to be about? It’s one thing to have a large story with an ensemble of characters. You wouldn’t expect one main character there. But because they introduce Margaret as the lead in the first act, it doesn’t make any sense to have her disappear almost entirely from the story. This is uneven storytelling. I guess if I could say something nice about it, I would say that the art direction and costumes looked nice.
This isn’t the worst film of the year, but it’s definitely inadequate filmmaking. Murray gives a cartoonish performance and the film has no focus. And that tedious narration can be quite unbearable at times. This should have been a fun romp, but instead it’s just a slog to sit through. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for brief sexuality (an offscreen handjob). It really should have been PG13.
– Running time: 1hr 34min.