Hateship Loveship (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
After the older woman she worked for has died, Johanna (Kristen Wiig) is employed by Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) to help take care of his granddaughter. Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) does not live with her father (Guy Pearce) because he had been imprisoned and is currently struggling with drug addiction. Her mother, on the other hand, passed away due to an accident. Johanna and Sabitha do not see eye to eye, the former for her lack of social skills and the latter for feeling threatened by the new presence in the house.
Directed by Liza Johnson, the goal of “Hateship Loveship” is to tell a small but specific story about a woman who is so used to things just happening to her that we come to wonder if she has experienced how it is like to truly live. Although the screenplay by Mark Poirier attains that target occasionally, the emotional power of the film depends on how consistent it hits the mark exactly. By the end, one gets the impression that the film has good intentions but it is a misfire.
Part of the problem is Johanna teetering on bland, colorless, on paper. Wiig plays her just right—unfashionable, soft-spoken, always looking down—but the writer does not give her very much to do or say. Wiig single-handedly makes the quieter moments work—such as one involving a trip to a clothing store—because she has the talent for looking sad without being pathetic. We root for her to achieve some sort of happiness.
Still, for such a quiet person, we almost expect Johanna to offer profound insight when she does choose to speak. We know that the character is really at good cleaning, almost on an obsessive level, cooking, and is sensitive to others’ needs. We also know that she is so yearning to have romantic love that she becomes prey for a cruel joke.
There is a lack of fluidity in the storytelling. By dividing the picture into two major parts, the first half consisting of Johanna’s every day life with Sabitha and Mr. McCauley and the latter half Johanna spending time with Johanna’s father, it feels like two movies awkwardly conjoined. The final scenes have no sense of time passing by. Major events are thrown at us but they bear little impact because they are not yet earned.
Worse, there is a late subplot involving the grandfather finding a special woman. It has nothing at all to do with the larger themes of the movie so discerning viewers must wonder if such scenes had been added for the sake of having “feel-good” moments. I questioned if the writer did not have the confidence in the effectiveness of the dramatic material that he felt compelled to introduce a light distraction.
“Hateship Loveship” might have worked if it had been reread and rewritten several more times—to get rid of unnecessary details that contribute nothing to the overall arc and to focus on the protagonist’s struggles to find the love that she has longed for. At least it is refreshing to see Wiig in a dramatic role that she embodies so fully, there are moments when I forgot that she has made a career out of making people laugh.