Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

January 15, 2013

CALLERI: Movie about FDR delivers the cringe factor


Niagara Gazette —

I don’t care how many times removed she was, she was still the President’s cousin, and he was having an affair with her. To me, that’s the headline. According to the film, he was also enjoying sex with his secretary. Meanwhile, his wife Eleanor spent much of her time at Hyde Park hanging out with a community of women making quilts, or something woven.

Roosevelt was a man stricken with polio, who used a wheelchair and often needed to be carried by Secret Service agents. The press conspired to keep the details of his polio from the public. However, Roosevelt was still robust in the summer of 1939 (he was only 57), a smart man with a vibrant mind that was completely engaged and capable of battling Congress to get the United States out of its economic doldrums. History reveals that he was generally a happy guy, boisterously greeting visitors, and eager to spread his special brand of enthusiasm. The phrase “hail fellow, well met” perfectly fits the President.

In his history of World War II, Winston Churchill wrote about soldiers carrying the President if there were no wheelchair ramps and how Roosevelt humorously deflected any potential embarrassment at seeing so important a figure being carried in the arms of another man. In the movie, we find ourselves watching a physically weak person, not the man Churchill and others saw.

The film depicts the President as a soft-spoken, randy old coot. A constantly winking, perverted codger who looks to be old and feeble. His preferred method of enticing his cousin Margaret into sitting closer to him was to show her his postage stamp collection. Whether any of this is true or not is subject to debate.

Margaret, is played by Laura Linney as a drab, dish rag of a woman; always shy and frumpily-dressed. As her relationship enlivens her life, she blossoms a little, only to have her spirit crushed by something she discovers. Linney is good, but ill-served by the lackluster screenplay. It turns out that Miss Stuckley kept copious notes and journals, all of which were found under her bed after she died in 1991. Was the sex a fantasy? Were the diaries a carefully crafted fiction written by a mousy spinster? Who knows? And frankly, as creepily depicted in the movie, who really cares?

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