Directed by: Liza Johnson
Premise: Adapted from the short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro. A soft spoken domestic worker (Kristen Wiig) takes a job in the home of an elderly man (Nick Nolte) and his granddaughter (Hailee Steinfeld). The daughter and her friend begin writing love letters to the new caregiver under the guise that they come from the daughter’s estranged father.
What Works: On its surface, Hateship Loveship looks like standard romantic schlock, the kind of thing to air in the middle of the afternoon on the Lifetime cable network. And the movie certainly has elements of that; the story concerns an inward woman who discovers lust and eventually love with a bad boy who is inevitably reformed through their romance. At its most basic level, Hateship Loveship is consistent with the tropes of a lot of romantic stories and for viewers who enjoy that kind of thing the movie delivers. However, Hateship Loveship is able to go beyond the parameters of the typical romantic story through its characters. Everyone in this film is damaged in some way but the filmmakers treat the characters with dignity. Hateship Loveship is led by Kristen Wiig as the domestic employee who has come to work for a wealthy but fragmented family. Wiig has generally been associated with comedy roles on Saturday Night Live where she often played awkward and obnoxious characters like the Target Lady and Gilly the school teacher. In some ways her role in Hateship Loveship is consistent with those characters but Wiig dials it down. She’s still awkward but she’s also incredibly focused and nuanced here. While she does inspire a few laughs she plays the part in a way that’s much more accessible. But, importantly, she doesn’t play the part for sympathy either. There is a deep, quiet yearning to her character and over the course of the movie she becomes more assertive but in an authentic way. The filmmakers don’t opt for a big speech moment because Wiig doesn’t need it; she conveys character and achieves empathy with subtle shifts of posture and expression. Guy Pearce is cast as a drug addict and as usual Pearce brings a lot of humanity to a role that could otherwise be a stock character. Hailee Steinfeld plays the daughter and her relationship with her friend (Sami Gayle) is more complex that the average pair of movie teenagers.
What Doesn’t: The first half of Hateship Loveship plays out predictably. The story follows the familiar format of the white lie that gradually escalates into something more dramatic. Fortunately, the filmmakers get to the moment of truth halfway through the film instead of waiting until the ending. When that revelation happens, the picture fundamentally changes. From then on out, all bets are off and the story and its characters could go any which way. The only lament about the second half is that it tends to play it safe and does not get as dramatic as it could. The movie would benefit from more intense conflicts. For instance, Kristen Wiig’s character is humiliated when she realizes that she has been duped by a pair of teenagers and while she plays that moment very effectively, her desired love connection comes to fruition without a lot of resistance. At the same time Guy Pearce’s character copes with drug addiction but his struggle isn’t that dramatic. It’s nice to see that the filmmakers sidestep some of the clichés of the addiction story but the film would be a little stronger if those clichés were replaced with something else. The movie ultimately has a fairly conservative concept of family with the characters taking the dysfunctional pieces and reassembling them into something resembling a traditional family unit. That isn’t very innovative but it is ultimately gratifying in its own way.
DVD extras: Trailers.
Bottom Line: Hateship Loveship will appeal to fans of romantic stories but the performances by the central cast, especially Kristin Wiig, elevate it above the average entry in the genre.
Episode: #518 (November 16, 2014)