Shiny Sally came to the home a few weeks ago, taking over Terminal Terry’s bed like sunshine after rain. Oh, but she is bright, slight and utterly free of depth. Her husband visits sometimes and you can see what drew them together: he’s a bitchingly miserable Irish playwright, full of darkness and perverse desires, whereas she out-chirps the dawn chorus. She chose Hampstead for film night. Aaaah, those London-suburb films, eh? Notting Hill, Wimbledon, Spankers Hill Wood (its moment will come…).
As it turns out, Shiny Sally has a real nose for the filmic cookbook of the dimmer surfeurs d’argent… Old Jack will now belabour that point with a recipe.
Take Richard Curtis‘s London (it’s bright, white, rich and filled with old friends with strange opinions), an odd, isolated character, the thinnest layer of what your actors can do, and bleach out rom and com with blue skies and brilliant jokes. In this instance, forget the brilliant jokes.
Add Diane Keaton as Emily Walters, a widow living in a mighty flat in one of those “you owe ten grand for sluicing the shitter” buildings. She has a grown-up son and a sense of stunned daintiness. She has snitty friends that have mass but no character: Lesley Manville gives it a go as Fiona, but it’s a losing battle. She has a volunteering job in one of those perma-Spring cobbled streets of genteel shops and never-was London. And she is properly pissed at her dead husband. Who had an affair.
Season with Brendan Gleeson as Donald Horner, a gazillion miles from the bared teeth of In Bruges or Harry Potter, living in a self-built shack in the glories of Hampstead Heath. Grumpy, Irish, prone to fishing, rage and living life his way. He has money for books, mind.
And mix! And watch it come alive!
Or not. Shiny Sally hummed her enjoyment for the whole two hours. Old Jack spent the time chewing chillies to fend off a coma.
I know a lot of us oldsters live in the past, and this can bore the young. But, for fuck’s sake, we have lived! There are anecdotes! Give us the anecdotes: sadness, happiness, sexy times – even family members and other people if you must! Hampstead dodges all this: the actors are grey, but their characters are superficial (coding as ‘young’: only now! matters) to the point of unlived. Even the script spots the problem:
Emily: Are you judging me?
Donald: Yes, I’m trying to, but you’re not giving me a lot to go on.
Emily needs to move on with her life and a state of advanced financial awfulness is helping – but she’s fighting it. The closest she gets to developing is big belts and a new beret. Donald, 17 years into shack life, needs to move on and a state of advanced corporate and judicial bullying is helping – but he’s ignoring it. So, spying him having a bathe, Emily pops over, intrudes on his life, and starts to fight for him. Along with a likeable bunch of charity muggers led by Erik (Hugh Skinner doing his thing a notch smarter than in the funnier-at-any-point W1A).
And they fall in yurgh… Sorry, I mean they fall in grurrrrgh…
On the bright side, there’s no hint of passion, no bump and grind, and certainly none of the stuff that goes on in Old Jack’s head before Sunday breakfast. Keaton, well, she still got it. And Gleeson, well, he looks a lot like old Jack before the Santa Clausing of my beard, so there’s an erotic crackle in the… Nope – I’m trying – but I still can’t turn this into a heartening romance for grandpa’s afternoons on the tug rug. It’s…so…pfff.
Unlike for Shiny Sally, who won’t choose a film ’til Christmas cos I got active with the rota, things work out okay in Hampstead because neither plot nor characters put up a second’s fight against the inevitable. Our heroes putter away in a state of casual chatting for the entire credits sequence, the cake sunken and under-baked.
Got a sense of anti-climax? Well, me too.
Catch this glacial loveliness on Amazon Prime.