Dr. Donna Copeland’s
KRISTEN WIIG GUY PEARCE HAILEE STEINFELD NICK NOLTE JENNIFER JASON LEIGH CHRTISTINE LAHTI
It’s been said that comedy is the most difficult genre, so that would mean that comedians would have to be more talented, correct? Every so often comedians venture into the dramatic arts and, while this isn’t the first time SNL alum and Oscar nominated screenwriter Kristen Wiig has done so (see her supporting role in All Good Things), it’s the first time she has taken the lead in a dramatic feature. Hateship Loveship feels personal, and I assume that is the case as it’s based on the short story by Alice Munro. Unfortunately for Wiig and her fans, this role doesn’t allow her dramatic liberties, and there are no challenging moments for this character and a very small arc. The film starts off strong and ends strong, but I don't buy the bridge from A to C; it has a weak middle ground.
Following the death of a patient Joanna Parry (Wiig) has taken care of her entire adult life, she leaves the sheltered life for rural Ohio, where another caretaker job is already lined up. Joanna will be taking care of Sabitha (Steinfeld), who now lives with her grandfather (Nolte) since her mother was killed in an accident at the hand of her drug addicted father (Pearce). Bored in a small town, Sabitha and her best friend decide to fake written and electronic letters to Joanna, impersonating her father. Joanna, who has never been in love, accepts the bait after dozens of letters and sets off to be with this man she thinks she has been corresponding with.
Some of the plot devices in the film ring false; for instance, the two best friends losing their long friendship over a tiny misunderstanding, just to allow the best friend to continue writing the letters. Part of me doesn’t buy the extreme naiveté of Joanna, who is pushing 40 but dreams and acts like a young girl behaviorally. The film does move in surprising and unpredictable ways as Joanna makes almost unfathomable decisions that seem to only make her character more interesting as she evolves with those around her. Without much dialogue I felt that any moment Wiig might crack a smile and fall out of character like she often did in her many brilliant skits on SNL, but she plays this straight faced and solemn character the entire film.
Structurally this film is somewhat of a mess; it’s unorthodox but it also keeps the viewer guessing as to what many of the characters will do next. Leigh, Nolte and Pearce all give decent performances while Oscar nominated Steinfeld (True Grit) is forced to play a stereotypical teenage spoiled brat. The biggest disappointment here is that Wiig isn’t given more to do with the amount of screen time she has. Her talent is wasted driving the film from one point to another as she works in silence. Not that silent performances can’t be powerful, but in the major moments her character faces, like the realization the letters were falsified, we only see Wiig’s back turned to the camera in the moment and not the horror on her face.
Final Thought – This dramatic vehicle doesn’t get comedian Wiig anywhere interesting.
By: Dustin Chase
The story in Hateship Loveship, which is based on an Alice Munro work, is surprising in its predictable turns. We meet the main character, Johanna (Kristen Wiig), as she concludes her care of an elderly woman and dutifully travels by bus to her next assignment, which will be watching over a teenager, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), and cleaning for her and her maternal grandfather, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), in a well-to-do home. She herself comes from a simple background—small town, mother a single parent—and her appearance is very plain—one could say mousy. She looks nothing like a young woman who is to watch over a precocious teenager, but clearly knows her stuff when it comes to cleaning and cooking. She takes a practical view of life and maintains her privacy, even though she is interested enough in the family that she listens to them from the stairs or behind doors.
An obvious undercurrent of conflict is between Sabitha’s father, Ken (Guy Pearce) and McCauley, who clearly resents his son-in-law’s past behavior, but is trying hard to keep a civil connection. Although Ken wants to stay the night before going back to Chicago, McCauley says he should go on ahead. Ken takes Johanna and the two girls out for hamburgers, and writes her a short note after he leaves, giving it to Sabitha to deliver. A major twist in the story is that Sabitha and her friend Edith (Sami Gayle) read the note, of course, and when Johanna responds to his note by mail, they cook up the idea of writing to Johanna in Ken’s name. It’s a cruel joke, because this goes on over some time, and they have him say romantic things to her; so, being lonely, she immediately falls in love. The girls have fixed it so that Johanna and “Ken” are communicating by e-mail. Thinking she has informed Ken that she is coming to visit him, she arrives at his place and takes him completely by surprise. The rest of the story concerns how they work it out, as well as brief detours into Sabitha’s and McCauley’s relationships.
Kristin Wiig shows that she is well equipped to play a character completely different from any she has done before and truly has a flair for serious drama. Guy Pearce—always a fine actor—is entirely convincing as a man who has made huge mistakes in his life, and has had little experience in verbalizing his thoughts and feelings. Nick Nolte, of course, is a gifted actor, able to convey complex reactions and emotions. Together with the rest of the cast—Steinfeld, Sami Gayle, Christine Lahti, and Jennifer Jason Leigh—the acting is at a quality level.
Hateship Loveship is well directed by Liza Johnson, and the music by Dickon Hinchliffe contributes greatly to the changing moods. I personally did not care much for the story, partly because it seems to convey too much nostalgia for traditional women’s roles in the home. In that realm, Johanna’s role is rather incongruous for this day and age, despite her background and shy personality. And further, it seems implausible that the Ken character would respond as he does in the film, given his background.
The acting saves this film from being a total wash-out.