Hampstead: Jack Squat, by Alexander Miller
The major draw of Hampstead is its stars, Diane Keaton and Brendon Gleeson. The rest of the cast is added incentive, seeing as it’s a rounded collective of British actors. There’s Lesley Manville, James Norton, Phil Davis and none other than Simon Callow. The trailers and promotional material peripheral to the film sell it as a meet-cute rom-com with a slight fish-out-of-water angle with Keaton’s American character being in an English setting. Hampstead is based on the true story of Harry Hallowes, an Irish native who found his way to living in a makeshift squat in London’s Hampstead Heath area and who came into legal trouble when property developers tried to evict him. This story gained some traction in the press, and Hallowes became “Britain’s Richest Tramp,” also known as “Harry the Hermit.”
This story is shaped into a limp screenplay by Robert Festinger brought in to motion by director Joel Hopkins. From the outset, Hampstead seems like a harmless bit of tripe, a trifle of a rom-com that is neither bad nor good, it just is. But after so many predictable segues, tiresome quips and familiar narrative beats, the film’s cumulative effect devolves from tolerable to grating.
Starting off, we get the rigamarole with Keaton’s Emily Walters, a widow living a seemingly happy life in the gorgeous, titular London village. Despite the nice apartment, gaggle of friends, handsome, well adjusted grown son, she’s miserable and, thanks to her late husband, is deeply in debt. It’s almost like Emily is in a rut and needs a spark of inspiration to stimulate her from this unfulfilled juncture in life. Who or what could that be? Maybe the rugged, self-styled loner who lives on the outskirts of town? The proverbial writing is on the wall here. Conventions exist for a reason but Hampstead takes the inevitable meet-cute scenario of the seemingly mismatched duo and drags it (and us) through a seemingly never-ending slew of red herrings and false starts furnished with yawn-inducing dialogue that’s monotonous at best. Keaton’s ample screen time feels like script padding. While she’s naturally charismatic, her character is thoroughly uninteresting. It’s as if the creators didn’t have much interest in her to begin with. She’s a faux bourgeois and the story isn’t much more than the worn trope of the “bored wealthy white person looking for more” narrative. Despite being a little sexist, it’s also thoroughly dull and entitled. So her interest in the grizzled Gleeson and her taking up his cause feel like nothing more than slumming it up for lack of having anything better to do. Meanwhile, Gleeson’s Donald Horner is just as droopy. The character is a cipher of one-dimensional sarcasm and comes off as nothing more than a glorified tramp. Horner doesn’t stand for anything. He’s not suffering from an affliction or anything along those lines so, at the end of the of the experience, the film isn’t saying much of anything. The David and Goliath variation is abandoned for a snooze-inducing ferry into a world that is better left undiscovered.
Hampstead could be an exciting movie but it defaults to transparent tropes and one-dimensional methods of delivery that will leave you wondering why you didn’t invest your time more wisely.
From the outset, Hampstead is advertised as a superfluous offering but the truth is it sells its territory as this faux utopian vision that is dopey and finally disrespectful if you consider the current population of people who do live on the outskirts of urban development, punished by the ramifications of progress. Instead of an object lesson, Donald is a mere vehicle for cookie cutter liberal rhetoric, as if that compensates for the lack of impact and circumstance that the film openly ignores in favor of a transparent love story that is practically nonexistent.
Before diving into the middling affair that was Hampstead, I couldn’t help but wonder why this title has such an odd timeline in terms of production and release. It wouldn’t be such a shock if yet another banal romantic comedy sat on the shelves for some time but it went into production in 2016 and, by June 23rd, 2017, was released in the UK. This might be speculation but one of the film’s producers, Harvey Weinstein, was very publicly attached to Hampstead and, four months after its UK release, was levied with a notorious number of sexual assault allegations.
Or is Hampstead just so uninspired that the public is blind to the fact that a movie is attached to one of Hollywood’s most infamous perverts two years removed from the inception of the scandal?