REEL ADVICE

Hyde Park on Hudson

Fri. January 4, 2013 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

In theaters: Those Roosevelts

Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two of America's greatest Presidents, got the big screen treatment in 2012, but only Lincoln survives unscathed (so to speak). In Hyde Park on Hudson (Focus), named for the Roosevelt family country estate ruled with an iron claw by FDR's mother Mrs. Roosevelt (Elizabeth Wilson), President Roosevelt (Bill Murray) is portrayed as a man with a long history of infidelity.

Daisy (Laura Linney), a fifth or sixth cousin of FDR's, born Margaret Stuckley, is one of the main subjects of his intimate interest in the film. Another is his long-suffering secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel). As is made clear, his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) preferred the company of what FDR referred to as her "she-man" friends, such as Lorena Hickok; the kinds of "women who made furniture" and who "liked each other."

So, during the Great Depression, while "waiting for nothing," Daisy received a phone call from Mrs. Roosevelt, acting as a sort of pimp, if you will, procuring her company for FDR, because "everyone else was away." With the Depression ongoing and another war brewing in Europe, being with Daisy allowed FDR to forget the weight of the world. This involved taking drives along country roads that Daisy "never knew existed" in a car that could be driven just by the hands. Then, one day, in a field full of clover, FDR took Daisy's hand and things moved in a more personal direction, allowing Daisy to also make good use of her hands.

As the relationship progressed, FDR takes Daisy to a cottage on the grounds, "a place she can come to to be alone when they miss each other." Daisy comes to be known as "the cousin who is always visiting," and her presence is accepted. However, that acceptance is tested when the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman, respectively) come to visit Hyde Park on Hudson in 1939, and Daisy is excluded from an important event.

While there is definitely something creepy and vaguely incestuous about FDR and Daisy's relationship, it's a part of the movie that remains most clearly in focus. The King and Queen's visit, which is central to the story, takes too much priority (could it have something to do with director Roger ("Venus") Michell being a Brit?). Bill Murray (who has yet to top his performance in Lost In Translation) does an admirable job, as does most of the cast. But Hyde Park on Hudson, which is a great-looking movie, feels too scattered and uncertain of how it feels about the subject matter, resulting in an overall disappointing experience.

At home: Dudes in love and trouble

If you only know Josh Radnor from his character Ted on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, then you don't know Josh Radnor. As a filmmaker (writer and director), beginning with 2010's Happythankyoumoreplease, Radnor is proving himself to be more than a one-trick pony. His second film, Liberal Arts (IFC Films), is proof positive of that.

Admissions advisor at an NYC college, Jesse (writer/director Josh Radnor) is the kind of bookish, David Foster Wallace-quoting guy who's unaware when he's being hit on by a bookstore clerk. He falls asleep, fully clothed, while reading; has a bag of his dirty laundry stolen from Laundromat; and dares to ask the ex-girlfriend who's moving out on him if she likes his new shirt.

Invited to his Ohio alma mater by favorite former prof Peter (Richard Jennings) to speak at his retirement function, Jesse says yes. Little does he know what's in store for him. Once there, he's so happy to be on a college campus, with a quad and green space, Jesse actually lays down on the grass. He acts like a man that has had the weight of the world (or at least of New York) lifted from his shoulders.

Enter quirky and filterless sophomore Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), the daughter of two of Peter's friends. Active in the campus improv troupe, where "you have to say yes to everything," she ignites a spark in Jesse. Where the potentially stunted Jesse relies on books for guidance and inspiration, the advanced Zibby goes by the "everything in life is basically improvised" credo. Taking her lead, Jesse crashes a campus party with wise stoner dude Nat (Zac Efron, who as it turns out, is a better actor in small doses), who insists on calling him Ethan. Wouldn't you know it? Zibby is at the party.

Soon, old-fashioned Zibby (who declares that the dude situation on campus is not great) and Jesse begin a tentative courtship, although Jesse is uneasy about their 16 year age difference. Jesse returns to New York, but he and Zibby keep the lines of communication open via a letter-writing and classical music appreciation campaign.

Too good to be true, the budding relationship hits several snags. Jesse's hesitant return trip to Ohio to see Zibby backfires. They aren't the only ones struggling – Peter has second thoughts and regrets about his retirement; "Smartest guy ever" student Dean (John Magaro) appears to be heading down the path of a similar manic episode that derailed his previous semester. Jesse's Blake-quoting, second favorite prof Fairfield (Allison Janney), seduces then insults Jesse, resutling in the least romantic night of his life with a Romantics professor.

Just when you think things aren't going to get any better, Jesse pulls a life-saving move on Dean and eventually realizes that he might have more in common with NYC bookstore clerk Ana (Elizabeth Reaser). Like many works of literature, Liberal Arts contains both a moral and a happy ending within its "pages." DVD special features include commentary, a featurette and deleted scenes.

In the zany indie Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best (Oscilloscope), we first encounter struggling musician Alex (writer/director Ryan O'Nan), pre-gig, in a bathroom stall, near tears, after reading a break-up letter from girlfriend Erin. To add insult to injury, Alex's musical duo-mate Kyle (Jason Ritter) dumps him after only a few shows.

But wait, there's more to Alex's downhill slide. Jack (Christopher McDonald), Alex's boss at the realty office, where he works with obnoxious Glengarry Glen Ross quoting co-worker Jason (Wilmer Valderrama), fires him, and he also loses his gig singing in schools.

It doesn't end there. Alex finds himself being stalked by self-described "musical revolutionary" Jim (the oddly sexy Michael Weston). Jim tries to convince Alex to join him on a cross-country tour, because all great music is made by "scraps" and they are on the top of the scrap heap.

"Borrowing" Jim's grandfather's vintage Rabbit, with Jim's collection of toy musical instruments in the back of the car, they leave New Jersey and head to Los Angeles. The Brooklyn Brothers (the name chosen by Jim for its hipster cred), write songs as they drive (don't try this at home).

In Pennsylvania they meet young entrepreneur and music enthusiast Cassidy (the charming Arielle Kebbel), who agrees to give them a chance at a venue where she books bands. Jim's pre-show jitters aside, the set goes well and Cassidy is impressed. She compares their sound to something David Bowie would write when he was six.

Despite Alex's protestations, Cassidy accompanies them on the tour. They get to know each other; beginning with Jim's regaling them with the story about why he lives in New Jersey with his grandfather. As we soon discover, Jim is a master storyteller and bull-shitter. His skills (almost) get them a gig at a theater in Tennessee.

Their gig at a psycho frat house, Theta Beta Potato, in Mississippi goes so well it leads to Alex and Cassidy hooking up. To continue Alex's bad luck streak, Cassidy splits with all of their money. At the end of his rope, Alex throws in the towel and heads to older, successful, born-again brother Brian's (Andrew McCarthy) house. There he makes a connection with 10 year old nephew Jackson (Jake Miller), a smart, outsider like Alex. They "write" a song together. It is here that the movie takes a serious turn when it comes to family dynamics.

The movie also takes a turn for the worse at this point, a rapid rush to closure. Cassidy shows up at Brian's house and tells Alex that Jim's grandfather died. Jim is still heading to LA to fulfill the dream, but unfortunately he's booked into a heavy metal/goth club where they won't be too happy to see him and they must save him.

Brian agrees to drive Alex and Cassidy and Jack comes along for the ride. Denied entry into the club, they end up playing a concert out front for their people, the scraps, with Brian and Jack there to hear them play. Then, the three of them are back on the road again. It's unfortunate that the movie, which tended to veer from the beaten path, went with a safe and somewhat predictable ending. Up until that point, it was entertaining and amusing. DVD special features include a behind the scenes featurette, "Musical Moose" outtakes, a live performance/Q&A from Brooklyn's Northside Festival and two short films.

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