Kristen Wiig Does Drama
Main Cast: Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce
Director: Liza Johnson
It seems horribly easy for actors to become typecast – especially comic actors. Most especially really talented comic actors. Kristen Wiig is one of those actors. So, so funny in movies like Bridesmaids and during her run on Saturday Night Live, Wiig made a solid name for herself as one of the funniest women working in 2014. So how to break that typecast? Perhaps by playing the least funny woman she could find in Hateship Loveship.
Hateship Loveship is the story of Johanna Perry. Johanna is a caregiver and we meet her as the elderly woman she cares for dies, leaving Johanna to move on to a new assignment. She’s going to be doing something very different – keeping house and caring for a teenager who lives with her grandfather. Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) doesn’t live there by choice, but by default. After her mother was killed in an accident for which her father Ken (Guy Pearce) went to prison, she ended up with Grandpa (Nick Nolte) by default. Ken is out of prison now, but Grandpa hates him (understandably) and does not allow him to stay at the house. Ken, in turn, is a junkie whose grand plans turn to shit on a regular basis. He clearly grieves for his wife, misses his daughter and knows he’s a screw-up on a grand scale, but lacks the intestinal fortitude to do anything to change his situation.
Johanna, on the other hand, is like a baby thrust out into the world. She has no social skills, but she can clean and cook and does
so without complaint. She’s dumpy and weird and awkward, making her ripe for Sabitha and her friend Edith (Sami Gayle) to abuse. And do they ever, initiating a fake correspondence between Ken and Johanna. Unfortunately, Johanna thinks it’s all real and finds herself imagining a real life for herself, probably for the first time ever. In the meantime, Ken is busy getting high and living in a rat-trap motel he bought for a song in Chicago with his very bad influence girlfriend Chloe (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The girls don’t count on the level of Johanna’s gullibility and by the time it’s clear, things have gone much too far. They don’t understand Johanna at all (no one understand Johanna) and soon their cruel joke has life altering consequences.
Hateship Loveship could easily have turned into a morality lesson about cyber-bullying, or trying to change a junkie, or making impulsive life choices. But it deftly avoids being any of those things and the credit belongs to Wiig. Her portrayal of Johanna starts out in an almost comical way (there are some really, really ugly outfits happening here, along with an unprecedented level of social awkwardness), and becomes something so much better. Johanna is not really the blank slate she appears, she’s just simply, unrelentingly good. She clearly understands her skill set and does the things she’s good at in order to make herself useful and, hopefully, wanted. She isn’t afraid of the world, she just has no experience living in it. Wiig makes her so sweet and vulnerable that sometimes it hurts to watch as she’s made a fool. And it feels so good when she has even a small triumph. This is not only a fantastic role for Wiig, who gets to play someone weird, but not as a joke, but a terrific character – one we can truly appreciate as the movie progresses and we come to know her.
The supporting cast is strong, with a great performance from Pearce as the repentant but unsupported supposedly ex-junkie, Nolte as the wounded grandfather and Steinfeld as the basically orphaned daughter. Sami Gayle also pulls out a really nice turn as the nasty and jealous Edith, the real force behind tormenting Johanna.
Overall, Hateship Loveship is a sweet, understated look at an unconventional woman and her quietly unconventional life. Kristen Wiig is marvelous in the lead role, creating a character that is very odd and very vulnerable and ultimately essential to the lives of an entire family. 4 ½ stars out of 5 for this little sleeper that proves Kristen Wiig is far more than just funny.
photo by Jiro Schneider