I knew almost nothing about this film going into it – just that it had a wonderful cast and was based on a short story by Alice Munro, which I’ve yet to read. As such, it was nearly impossible for me to predict anything that was going to happen, and before long, I found myself letting go and settling in to enjoy the ride.
The story follows Johanna (Kristen Wiig), a quiet, unassuming and somewhat lonely woman whose long-time job as a caregiver to an elderly woman comes to an end after the woman passes on one morning. Johanna follows a lead on another job, caring for a teenaged girl,Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) who lives with her maternal grandfather (Nick Nolte) after her mother is killed in a car accident and her father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is charged in her death. Young Sabitha needs a female figure around, and Mr. McCauley needs help raising a teenager, so hires Johanna as live-in, full-time assistance.
At first, it would appear that Johanna is out-matched in this world – the family has money and a big house, but is so full of secrets and unspent anger that a woman as used to living in her own head (and out of one suitcase) as Johanna would seem to be a fish out of water by comparison. However, Johanna quickly proves she’s more than equal to the task by not letting Sabitha get away with her rebellious teenaged antics, and still managing to run the household efficiently. Her only downfall, it would seem, is her aroused interest in Sabitha’s recovering addict father. When Johanna is misled into believing that Ken has feelings for her, too, she sets an incredible chain of events into motion, and never looks back again.
Hateship Loveship is Kristen Wiig’s film from start to finish, and it’s a side of her we’ve never really seen before. The film showcases her talented acting chops, proving she can carry a dramatic piece as well or better than any comedy she’s done so far. Her performance is wonderfully restrained and subtle, filled with unflinching moments of raw emotion, barely hidden behind a curtain of restraint and shown to the audience through tight, unforgiving close-ups. There are many wonderfully comedic moments throughout the film, as well. In fact, one in particular wherein the camera focused and lingered on Johanna for an extra beat as the barest hint of a reaction crossed her features, was so perfectly played that it nearly brought the house down. Each member of this incredible cast turned in amazing performances, but Wiig is definitely the one to watch. She is a delight from beginning to end.
As mentioned, I have not yet read the source material, but it is my understanding that this was a modernized adaptation of the short story, as well – set in a different time and place – yet still staying true to the universal themes of the author’s original intent. The script was very well-written and strong, letting the dialogue grow sparse when required to allow the actors to inhabit the space and tell the story beyond the words. This telling shines through with the director’s deft and patient hand, letting the audience follow Johanna through the motions of quietly yet persistently pursuing the life she wants for herself most of all, and showing that sometimes the fish out of water is perhaps the only one who really understands how to navigate the world around them at all.
Hateship Loveship screens once more at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday,September 14th at 9:45am.