OPPOSITE POLES: Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce in Hateship Loveship.
OPPOSITE POLES: Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce in Hateship Loveship.

Hateship Loveship

DIRECTOR: Liza Johnson

CAST: Kristen Wigg, Guy Pearce, Hailee Steinfeld, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sami Gayle


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


KRISTEN Wiig has made a career out of quiet mortification. Since creating her strange, often quirkily recessive recurring characters on Saturday Night Live, then attaining superstar status in the smash raunch-com Bridesmaids, Wiig has turned a relatively limited bag of behavioural tics – shy downward glances, whispered line deliveries that trail off into vague nothingness, oblique, off-centre staging – into her own highly personal, mousily effective Hollywood juggernaut.

She brings all of those familiar mannerisms to bear on Johanna Parry, the withdrawn heroine of Hateship Loveship, although here they are deployed in the name of literary-minded drama rather than comedy. Adapted by Liza Johnson from a short story by Alice Munro, Hateship Loveship sneaks up on the viewer, not only in the way the story takes its unlikely turns, but in Wiig’s own portrayal of a woman discovering desire and, in the most subtle way possible, acting on it.

As the film opens, Johanna – who has worked most of her life as a domestic aide for one elderly woman – is starting a new job in a new town (“a new everything”, as she describes it), where she will serve as a housekeeper and nanny for prosperous businessman Bill McCauley (Nick Nolte) and his teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). On her first day at work, Johanna also meets Ken (Guy Pearce), Sabitha’s father, a raffishly attractive lout whom she walks in on as he is stealing drugs from his father-in-law’s medicine cabinet. (All the supporting players in Hateship Loveship are terrific, especially the young Sami Gayle, as Sabitha’s best friend Edith.)

Observing the family’s fractured dynamics with a slightly glazed but hungrily avid stare, Johanna begins to be drawn in. The question in Hateship Loveship is to what end, and Johnson – who made a superb debut in 2011 with Return – does an estimable job of doling out information and plot developments so deliberately that the audience is never quite sure what is around the next corner.

Certainly they get no clue from Wiig’s performance as Johanna, whose cipherlike impassivity at first threatens to make Hateship Loveship fatally inert, but then begins to pay off as the film heads for one of the more startling third acts in recent memory.

Before viewers dismiss that denouement as impossibly pat, they should ask: Wouldn’t its opposite be just as tidy? And haven’t we seen that story before? But we’ve never seen a protagonist quite like Johanna, who on the one hand personifies female self-abnegation at its most domesticated, but on the other embodies sheer will at its most stubborn. She knows the value of elbow grease, whether she’s redeeming a dirty kitchen floor or even a scruffier human soul. – Washington Post

If you liked Return or Away from Her, you will like this.