Admirably, Liza Johnsonís Hateship Loveship, an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story, wants to be as quietly observant and people-oriented as Munro is in her work. And while there is much to admire in the performances, the movieís measured pace withholds the best parts for a frustratingly long time.
Kristen Wiig plays Johanna, a mild-mannered woman hired by Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) to care for his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), whose teen growing pains are exacerbated by her troubled relationship with her irresponsible, absent father Ken (Guy Pearce) and the fact that her mother passed away. Sabitha and her best friend begin catfishing Johanna, convincing her that Ken, who lives in a different city, has fallen in love with her. When Johanna makes the first impulsive decision of her life and travels to meet Ken, the truth eventually comes out.
When it comes to capturing the finer details of the characters, Johnson and screenwriter Mark Poirier do their source material justice. The actors are able to express the tumultuous interior lives of the people they portray -- as when Sabitha confronts her vindictive friend after their joke goes too far -- without ever resorting to histrionics. In particular, Guy Pearceís drug-addicted Ken isnít a stereotype, but a man who has made very bad choices and is on the verge of understanding that he can change.
While all of this results in some high-quality acting, the movieís insistence on character over plot can make it feel very slow. The story mechanics in the first half that prompt Johanna to visit Ken are exactly that: just a string of incidents that lead to the protagonist developing a much more interesting relationship than the one she had with Sabitha. If the script had raised the stakes a little earlier, it would have been a far more compelling experience.
Kristen Wiig became a star on Saturday Night Live by playing outrageously broad characters. From Gilly to the Target Lady to Dooneese, they always made life awkward for everyone around them. Ironically, her movie career has consisted primarily of playing characters who are themselves uncomfortable. In her breakout film Bridesmaids, she was the quietly neurotic, yearning center surrounded by crazies. Sheís kept up her low-key vibe in several additional movies (including this one), and while itís a pleasure to see her challenge herself, the comedy in Hateship Loveship derives from Wiigís familiar comic persona clashing with Johannaís repression. As a performer, Wiig is comfortable turning awkwardness into giggles, and that instinct occasionally works against the filmís dramatic beats.
However, everything comes together tonally in the movieís second half, when it becomes a portrait of a buttoned-down woman falling for a drug addict. Hateship Loveshipís third act is a winner because the stakes are finally high enough that we donít want to laugh at Johanna or Wiig. We want both the actress and the character to be rewarded for taking a chance.
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- Released: 2013
- Rating: R
- Review: Admirably, Liza Johnsonís Hateship Loveship, an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story, wants to be as quietly observant and people-oriented as Munro is in her work. And while there is much to admire in the performances, the movieís measured pace withhol… (more)