Kristen Wiig is a comedy darling. If her years on “Saturday Night Live” didn’t cement her as one of the funny ones in the American consciousness 2011’s “Bridesmaids” certainly did. However, the gangly and excellent miss Wiig is looking to prove to audiences that she can pack more than chuckles with her latest starring turn. In “Hateship Loveship” (out on Friday, April 25) Wiig portrays Johanna Parry, an unassuming, quiet woman who makes her living taking care of others.
The film, which is based on Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage”, follows Johanna to a new job working for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) and his wild granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). Upon her arrival at the McCauley house Johanna also meets Sabitha’s visiting father, Ken, (Guy Pearce) a recovering addict, and Sabitha’s best pal Edith. Johanna’s plain appearance and exceedingly quiet nature don’t endear her to Sabitha and Edith, who soon enough take advantage of an opportunity to highjack a piece of mail intended for Ken and begin to manufacture a pseudo-relationship between the pair via a series of forged emails. Believing the emails and the possibility of a different life to be real, Johanna begins to transform, and gradually, to take action.
“Hateship Loveship” is a simple tale that is ultimately about the human condition in varying states. Though the temptation on the part of many would be to overly sentimentalize the narrative, director Liza Johnson and Mark Poirier, the screenwriter behind the adaptation, instead choose to make the film a quiet, at times melancholy, but ultimately optimistic celebration of life as it really is: a series of events, some mundane, some life-changing and some achingly tender.
That we as viewers know that what Johanna believes to be absolutely true is an absolute sham, we are left to watch the events unfold with rather great trepidation––but as we do, we are treated to some real surprises and a performance from Wiig that buoys the whole film. Had her performance failed to hit the right note, all else would have been unrailed. She takes some of the melancholy that also exists in many of her comedic characters (There’s no denying that Annie was a total wreck in “Bridesmaids” and it’s great that the Target lady is really passionate about her work, but she also wants nothing more for herself, and with that kind of energy she could do big things) and amps it up, though she keeps the level of zany that defined so many of her “SNL” characters wholly out of the picture. Instead she gives restrained glimpses of hope, sorrow, joy and contentment bubbling just under the surface at various turns. The end result is a character unlike any Wiig has rendered before, and indeed, quite unlike any that appear on screen, particularly as her portrayal is in earnest and utterly lacking in the irony or judgement we might expect to find in a different take on Johanna.
As such, “Hateship Loveship” is a film that is nearly as quiet and restrained as its main character, but it is one that serves up plenty of humanity, and further, asks viewers to give that humanity due consideration.