Bill Murray proved he's made of presidential timbre as he came to Telluride Saturday to stump for "Hyde Park on Hudson," which features his soon-to-be-feted turn as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
If he had a rival for festgoers' affections on day 2 of the 39th Telluride Film Festival, it'd be Greta Gerwig, who came to town for Saturday's unveiling of Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha," which arrived without distribution and is looking for its own New Deal.
As the films themselves go, "Ha" provoked far more euphoria than "Hudson" and its tempered responses. But passholders were wanting to sing "Hail to the Chief" to the leads of the two films in about equal measure.
One difference is that Murray will be competitive in the most immediate Oscar race, while Gerwig might have to wait till next year's campaign (at which point she might also be a contender for co-writing her film's screenplay).
As an unexpected presence in Telluride — or anywhere, for that matter — Murray was his usually irascible self. He introduced "Hyde Park" by saying he'd still never seen any of director Roger Michell's other movies (which include "Notting Hill" and previous Telluride entry "Venus").
He joked — presumably — that he and co-star Laura Linney had taken a big chance going along with Michell, although they took comfort in the participation of screenwriter Richard Nelson, because at least he was an American.
Murray added that he'd only faced three challenges in his life he wasn't sure he was up to: "One was to clean out the garage — which I still haven't done. Another was to sing at Carnegie Hall" (which he has). "And no one asked me ever to play the president of the United States, except for a sketch on TV." The measure of the challenge? "He's on the dime. Come on."
He looked at the British Michell, and the largely well-heeled passholder audience, questioningly. "You guys know what a dime is, right?"
Given that Murray's film career has been marked by accomplishment but not exactly biographically chameleonic roles, it may take most viewers a scene or two to stop focusing on the unlikeliness of one icon doing an impression of another. And Michell underscores any possible audience hesitance by initially shooting Murray from behind and in long shots, as he's reintroduced to his distant cousin (Linney) in a huge, dusty library.
But once Murray flashes that familiar, friendly, head-tilted-back grin, he's transformed, and so will be most filmgoers.
Winning the popular vote for the movie itself may be a slightly trickier task, since there is the matter of it being largely about one of the nation's all-time most beloved leaders carrying on several simultaneous long-term affairs — with a couple of late scenes that turn it into "Sister Wives: Presidential Edition."
On the plus side for the mass audience, much of the action centers around a vacation meeting FDR holds with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth — yes, the monarchs seen in another film that bowed at Telluride, "The King's Speech — who this time, believe it or not, provide the comic relief as they bicker over the meaning of a presidential hot dog meal.
The film's most impressive scene is a long meeting in which Roosevelt and the king bond over public reaction to their respective polio and stuttering. It also happens to be a crucial moment that leaves Linney on the sidelines, and the fact that her role as a mostly meek presidential mistress is primarily reactive may make her a slightly longer shot for official kudos than Murray, though she'll certainly be seen as in the mix.
Gerwig cements her rep as indiedom's leading lady with "Frances Ha," which might be Baumbach's most mainstream film to date. It's certainly his warmest and most moving; some Telluride attendees were taking to making favorable comparisons to a certain HBO hit and calling it "'Girls' with heart."
Baumbach said at the premiere screening that his decision to shoot in black and white was partly influenced by the B&W New York City movies of the past — though this is hepster Brooklyn, not Woody Allen's "Manhattan."
Gerwig plays a downwardly mobile 27-year-old with a manic or narcissistic streak whose neuroses nearly veer into extreme "Greenberg" territory. But the rapid-fire dialogue between Frances and her BFFs in the early going is hilarious and charming, and even at her worst, later in the movie — when the Hot Chocolate song "Everyone's a Winner" is used for highly ironic effect –she's still far more charming than Ben Stiller's polarizing character in Baumbach's previous movie.
Her touching emergence into real adulthood by film's end prompted a few audience tears. While steering well clear of sentimentality, Baumbach has allowed himself to make a movie in which it's rapturously clear that even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Also unspooling Friday was the American premiere of "The Iceman," which had just been unveiled to the world in Venice. Michael Shannon was seen as possibly having a star-making role as one of the mob's deadliest real-life killers, though the film will face tough going in that its takeaway seems mainly to be that hit men can be family men, too, which won't come as news to many viewers in the post-"Sopranos" era.
Still, having Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, Stephen Dorff, and other name actors in heavily disguised bit parts — not to mention Winona Ryder as a Jersey housewife! –provides curiosity value, on top of more than just a bit of the old ultra-violence.