2018-04-06 09:50
Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in a scene in the

What it's about:

Emily Walters is a recently widowed American living in the United Kingdom who has been left adrift both by her husband's death and certain revelations about his past but while she fails to connect with her small social group of upper-middle class women or the men they try to set her up with, she starts to fall for her “neighbour”, Donald Horner, a dishevelled homeless man who has been squatting for years in a small shack on Hampstead Heath and who now has to fight for his right to remain there when Emily's friends want to use the land for a new, high-priced development.  

What we thought:

Proof that not even the greatest actors can save a boring script and an uninvolving story, Hampstead utterly wastes its two leads, Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson – to say nothing of its supporting cast of talented British “character actors” - on a fluffy romcom that is neither remotely funny nor particularly romantic. It's the sort of understated British film aimed quite clearly at an older market looking for something as genteel as it is quaint but that's still no excuse for Hampstead to be as unexciting, uninteresting and anaemic as it is.

Keaton is rather good here as she tones down the quirkiness that she usually brings to these sorts of films; opting instead for a world-weary and melancholic performance that reminds us of just how great she can be. Gleeson, on the other hand, is as much a pleasure to watch as ever, but his role as a gruff but warm-hearted loner is the sort of thing that he can sleepwalk through by now – and, indeed, he does pretty much exactly that here. 

He has such overwhelming screen presence that even a bored Brendan Gleeson is well worth watching but for someone who can go from playing a broken, haunted priest in John Michael McDonaugh's criminally underrated masterpiece, Calvary, to the funniest, most cuddly criminal ever in the thoroughly delightful Paddington 2, it's hard not to feel that he is entirely wasted on something this far beneath him. It also certain doesn't help the “rom” part of the film's “romcom” equation that he and Keaton have almost no chemistry together – certainly not of the romantic sort.

Director Joel Hopkins has started to make a career out of “autumn romances”, featuring some of cinema's finest veteran talents, but this is a real step down from his now-signature film, Last Chance Harvey, which brought some real poignancy to the genre with a note-perfect pairing of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. The lack of chemistry between the leads here is a real problem but so is the flat screenplay by Robert Festinger, a screenwriter who hasn't written a ton of movies so far and who has been the very definition of erratic but the rest of his filmography certainly points to a far more interesting writer than anything on evidence here.   

As the film stumbles predictably from one innocuous scene to another, theoretically ramping up to the inevitable “big court case” but even then failing to register much of anything, it's all but impossible not to find your mind drifting to countless better films or, on occasion, just what you're going to be having for your next meal. While uninteresting legal battles, unconvincing romances and more cliches than you can shake a stick at playing out on screen, my mind played out something more like this: Hannah and Her Sisters, potatoes, chicken, Local Hero, Paddington 2, About Time, Love and Death, peas and carrots, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Curb Your Enthusiasm (because no small-time law case will ever look the same after Larry David took a spin at it), Local Hero again, coca cola, Love Actually and... roll credits.  

It's just that kind of movie. It's not terrible but it's so innocuous and banal that it's not really much of anything. It's apparently very loosely based on a true story but even then probably not much more than “there once was a man who lived on Hampstead Heath...” Total fiction or not, Hampstead may start off feeling like the perfect movie for a boring Sunday afternoon but soon becomes just another boring Sunday afternoon itself.

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