‘Hateship Loveship’: Kristen Wiig drama finds its way
A three-star movie review of “Hateship Loveship,” a drama about a woman’s new life as a caregiver to a troubled teenager. Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte and Hailee Steinfeld star.
‘Hateship Loveship,’ with Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte, Hailee Steinfeld, Sami Gayle. Directed by Liza Johnson, from a screenplay by Mark Jude Poirier, based on a short story by Alice Munro. 101 minutes. Rated R for drug use, some sexuality and language. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.
A lot of performers who come out of comedy, sketch and improvisation would rather die than do next-to-nothing on camera. Kristen Wiig, on the other hand — no problem. She can watch and listen and be interesting. She’s comfortable working on a small canvas with incremental brush strokes, which makes her an apt match for the isolated, insulated character at the heart of “Hateship Loveship.”
It’s a short-story-sized project, explained by its origins in a short story by Alice Munro. Screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier relocates the material from rural Ontario to Iowa and Chicago (the film was shot mostly in Louisiana, where the filming’s cheap).
Wiig’s character — quiet, vaguely dislocated Johanna Parry — is first seen attending to the dying woman for whom she’s served as caregiver and housekeeper for years. The woman’s death frees her. Her new position takes her to a new town and a larger set of challenges: She’s to watch over a troubled teenager (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit”) living with her grandfather (Nick Nolte).
The girl, Sabitha, has a prickly and wary relationship with her father, Ken, a cocaine addict (Guy Pearce), who recently bought a rundown roadside motel in Chicago. Ken’s father-in-law (Nolte) thinks little of the man whose drunken driving killed his own daughter. “Couldn’t run a one-pump gas station,” he says of Ken.
Cruelly, Johanna is led to believe that Ken is falling in love with her, thanks to a series of false emails cooked up by Sabitha and her best frenemy (Sami Gayle).
When the ruse is revealed — at a terrible moment, when Johanna shows up at the motel with her luggage — the contrivance falls apart, and in lesser hands the movie would, too. But Munro’s story travels unexpected places, and though not everything in Poirier’s script feels organic or convincing, director Liza Johnson has a genuine and empathetic handle on both major and minor players in the drama of Johanna’s new life.