MOVIE REVIEW: Missing pieces in Notting Hill-style film
A VAGRANT who smells good? Diane Keaton as an exceptionally late bloomer who has spent her entire adult life being stifled by a philandering husband and a bunch of Conservative North London matriarchs?
The enjoyment quotient for this feel-good rom-com is directly related to moviegoers' ability to suspend their disbelief.
Hampstead is based on the real-life story of Harry Hallowes, a recluse who in 2007 won squatter's rights to a patch of ground in Hampstead Heath.
This is the sanitised version.
When Emily Walters (Diane Keaton) tells Donald Horner (Gleeson) he's cleaner than she anticipated, he invites her to take a good whiff.
The odour, Horner informs her, is a mix of patchouli oil and pond scum.
While the production design team has gone a little over the top with his idyllic shack, hidden among dense foliage that borders Hampstead Heath, Gleeson makes a credible enough impression as Horner, who has existed, successfully, on the margins of English society for more than 17 years.
Keaton's sketchily-drawn widow, on the other hand, is wholly invented. And it shows. Walters stands out like a sore thumb among the group of women she calls friends.
The film's main focus, however, is the relationship between the expat American and Horner, who piques her interest when she spies him through her binoculars, bathing nude in one of Hampstead's lakes. (Walters lives in an portered Victorian apartment on the opposite side of the heath.)
The pair meet, not long afterwards, at Karl Marx's tomb in Highgate Cemetery, one of Horner's favourite haunts.
There are parallels between his current predicament - an urban developer is determined to evict Horner from his home to build expensive new apartments - and that of Walters, whose late husband has left her with crippling debts.
Lacking the wherewithal to tackle her own impending homelessness, Walters puts all of her energy into helping Horner retain his.
While the romantic chemistry between this unlikely pair is not entirely convincing, there's pleasure to be had simply in hanging out with the two seasoned actors who give the story everything they've got.
As a feel-good romantic fantasy, this grey-powered version of Notting Hill just passes muster.
But it's a far cry from the filmmakers' best work - director Joel Hopkins' Last Chance Harvey, starring Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, and writer Robert Festinger's Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom.
Hampstead opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Stars: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Lesley Manville.
Director: Joel Hopkins
Verdict: 2.5 stars