Reel Dad reviews Diane Keaton’s latest film ‘Hampstead’
Diane Keaton can make us believe almost anything she plays on a movie screen.
When her career started, she made us fall in love with the idiosyncrasies of a young woman named Annie Hall, before she helped Warren Beatty address the issues of fairness and equality in “Reds” and raised a small child in “Baby Boom.” All these years later, Keaton continues to charm with her smile, contagious laugh and engaging personality. No matter what film she makes, she makes us want to watch.
While the romantic comedy “Hampstead” will not join the ranks of Keaton’s best films, it certainly passes the time as a lovely movie diversion. The actress is at her most engaging as an American widow living beyond her means in the upscale Hampstead neighborhood of London. As she worries about her financial woes — thanks to bad investments made by her late husband — she accidentally discovers the plight of a man living in a make-shift home built many years before on the grounds of a hospital on Hampstead Heath.
Now, any of us who have savored romantic comedies over the years will quickly see everywhere the film is about to travel well before the characters. We can see, from the moment Keaton first meets the man “with the shack” (well nuanced by Brendan Gleeson) that this first meeting will not be their last; as well, as Keaton dishes the dirt with her haughty neighbor (beautifully embraced by the divine Lesley Manville) we can sense their friendship is not as meaningful as the chit chat might suggest. And we can see, as Keaton begins to examine her life, that her journey to self-awareness may include places and people she never expected to experience in a comfortable life defined by its boundaries.
While the film can feel as familiar as a favorite blanket, it can also be as comforting. As we maneuver a world filled with uncertainty, viewing such a warm, uplifting film can make us feel a bit better. Despite the film’s anticipated turns, we still find ourselves rooting for Keaton and Gleason as they navigate the details of property ownership, bad debts and the first steps of a relationship. And though we have a good idea where it may lead, we can’t help but smile when the characters reach the destination we figured out an hour or so before. Visually, the movie lovingly explores this special neighborhood of London; emotionally, the story does reach beyond its familiar ground to explore some real issues that people can face in later years.
Film Nutritional Value: Hampstead
Content: Medium. The narrative of a man and woman accidentally meeting — when each faces challenge with where they live — may be contrived but the actors make it work.
Entertainment: High. While Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson make us believe in what we see on screen, the script’s lack of originality does challenge their acting skills. And they are up to the task.
Message: Medium. While the film’s sentiment may be appealing, it could have been more richly developed by screenwriter Robert Festinger.
Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to consider how to make major life decisions — even as we age — can be meaningful.
Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. While the film could feel more original, any opportunity to watch Diane Keaton on screen is well worth a familiar plot.
Of course, any chance to watch Keaton on screen is a delight. As she continues to age with grace, she loses none of the passion for life she exhibited in her early screen performances, even as she tempers her enthusiasm with the grounding that can come from age. Keaton may not still be that “la tee dah, la tee dah” woman who captured everyone’s heart in “Annie Hall,” but, as she proves in “Hampstead,” she still has more than a few moves left.
“Hampstead” is rated PG-13 for “some suggestive material and language.” The film runs 1 hour, 42 minutes. It is available at area theaters and on iTunes.