Obviously targeted at the blue-rinse set, Hampstead is a slight, emotionally under-powered but mildly enjoyable late-love rom-com featuring two strong leads in unchallenging roles.
Emily (Dianne Keaton) is a recently widowed American struggling to hold on to her flat in the well-to-do London suburb of Hampstead. Her drab social life comprises meetings with the other flat owners, brief pop-ins from her son (James Norton), and lunches with a leery accountant (Jason Watkins) who is sorting out her finances gratis, but has unwelcome “expectations” of her. Her life takes a surprising turn when she falls for Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a recluse who has been squatting for many years in a self-built shack in a glade on Hampstead Heath. When developers take legal action to evict him, Emily whips up local support and finds a lawyer to represent him in court. However, the court case is not the only obstacle that stands between Emily, Donald and a happy ending.
As always, Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson have great screen presence, and they’re well supported by a generally excellent cast. Lesley Manville has fun sending up her oh-so-English upper-middle-class character Fiona, whose frightfully-polite persona fails to conceal the manipulative self-server lurking beneath.
There are some amusing moments, the standout being Jason Watkins’ accountant metamorphosing as uke-band leader serenading Emily at her surprise birthday party (ever seen a uke projected as a phallic symbol?).
The developer vs battler, haves vs have-nots element of the storyline is topical, and in this the film has its heart in the right place (although, to be honest, it’s hard to detect a pulse).
The piece is well plotted in terms of each component of the narrative falling into place by the end. That said, it’s all too neat. The art is laid bare, which works against us being immersed or emotionally involved.
The lead characters are barely more than sketches. This leaves them with nowhere much to go in their roles. Keaton basically does Keaton (you know – quirky, scatty, doing boho op-shop gear better than anyone else on the planet). Gleeson’s character has a real-life prototype, but any sense of rough-livin’ realism has been sanitised out (eg: he bathes daily in a nearby pond, anointing his big cleansed bod with patchouli). Keaton and Gleeson manage to be endearing nevertheless, which is testimony to their class and appeal as actors. However, without more to their characters, it’s hard to care about them, or their implausible relationship. An absence of emotional power is a fatal flaw in a rom-com.
The minor characters do not rise above caricature. Again, quality performances (Lesley Manville and Jason Watkins) come to the rescue. Emily’s son is so slight he’s barely there. And one character, a leftist activist, does nothing other than “activate”, spending his entire life, it seems, on the streets handing out leaflets in service of this or that cause.
Hampstead is lightweight and forgettable, but enjoyable enough.
Australian release date: Hampstead in Australian cinemas from 17 Aug 2017
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