Opening August 24, 2017
Directed by: Joel Hopkins
Writing credits: Robert Festinger
Principal actors: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleason, James Norton, Lesley Manville, Alistair Petrie
Let me count the good things about this film to start. For one, there is a very raw and uncouth rebel of a man, Donald (Gleeson), an Irishman who came to London on a losing streak and who now occupies a slapdash shack in the relative wild of Hampstead Heath. Donald faces an eviction charge from developers. His character is based loosely on the real-life figure of Harry Mellowes, a man who filed for squatter’s rights for a piece of land in Hampstead Heath after living there more than 20 years.
Gleeson plays Donald as a sympathetic but grungy combination of Joe Cocker and Günter Gabriel, and a convincing middle-aged anti-hero.
Filmed on location in London, Hampstead Heath seems lush and boundless. There is a hidden pathway to the grounds of an abandoned Victorian hospital where it all takes place, and all the green creates a kind of forgotten paradise. And then there is magic: Donald’s shack is tiny on the outside but inflates palacially in the interior shots – I wouldn’t mind living there myself. Score one for interiors.
Well, that’s it; the rest is not so hot. Alice (Keaton) is a seventy-something widow in a formerly posh apartment now falling to ruins. Alice is desperately in need of friendship, a repairman, some extra cash and guidance in every possible way. When she learns about the developers Alice gets to know Donald and starts a petition to save his shack. Keaton plays Alice with a permanent helpless squint and a little quivering laugh; unfortunately she comes across as spineless, mired in the past and not really very sexy.
The story is predictable and the developing love story hard to believe with such contrary types, not to mention the age gap (in years and energy) between Alice and Donald. This is a film for rainy afternoons, to be followed with an ice-cream sundae and a Rosamunde Pilcher novel. ( )
Following the death of her philandering husband, Emily Walters (Keaton) finds herself burdened with debt and the prospect of losing her home. Feeling stifled with her rather unfulfilled life of volunteering at a charity shop and being needled by her wealthier neighbors, she becomes interested in the scruffy man who seems to have taken up residence in the nearby park. His name is Donald Horner (Gleason), and he has been squatting on a small plot of land on Hampstead Heath for several years. When a property developer tries to evict Donald, Emily takes it upon herself to help him fight to keep his home.
Instead of a heartwarming romance amongst the poignant backdrop of the cut-throat world of modern real estate development and increasing property costs, Hampstead is a milk-toast film lacking in both depth and emotional investment. Diane Keaton seems to have become a parody of herself, traipsing around in her typical Annie Hall inspired wardrobe, her ditzy and naïve characterizations becoming nothing more than a cliché. The romance between Emily and Donald seems farfetched and a bit insulting as she makes comments about his smell (or lack thereof). She seems to be merely interested in him as a way to escape her own boring life, not due to any genuine affection. Donald meanwhile seems more enamored with Emily’s bathtub than the woman herself (understandable after bathing in a pond for years). Add to this a rather boring subplot with an accountant and how the film rushes through the most interesting part of the plot, Donald’s fight with the authorities over his right to remain in his home, and all that remains is a soulless and trivial film. With lackluster directing and a script about as clever as a made-for-TV movie, there is no need to waste any time on this poor offering.