Well acted but frustratingly dull, Hateship Loveship is the sort of independent film that a lot of people hold up when they say that they don’t like “indie movies”. There are some fine performances on display from the cast, but the flick is meandering, monotonous, and ultimately not nearly as rewarding as it hopes to be. Director Liz Johnson and writer Mark Poirier just don’t seem to know what they want this film to accomplish, so it winds up accomplishing pretty much nothing. The fault certainly doesn’t lie at the feat of the cast, which does what they can, especially the trio of Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, and Hailee Steinfeld. I will say that Wiig does get to play around with a mostly dramatic role here, so that’s a nice change of pace for her. She acquits herself well enough, but frankly it is just in the service of a lesser product. The are individual moments that work here, and at no point does this become an out and out bad movie, but it’s just repetitive and mediocre through and through. I wanted to like Hateship Loveship, but it just wouldn’t let me. I don’t have any hate for this flick, but if you’ll excuse the pun, I don’t have much in the way of love for it either.
Our protagonist is Johanna Parry (Wiig), an incredibly shy woman who always looks a little flustered by life. You’d imagine that a stiff breeze might make her burst into tears. A new opportunity for her arrives in the form of a job when she is hired by Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) as the housekeeper and babysitter/nanny to his teenaged granddaughter Sabitha (Steinfeld). Although Sabitha appears like your garden variety sometimes happy sometimes moody teen, she’s also got some scars buried deep from the death of her mother a few years before. Complicating matters in a big way is that the circumstances around her death have led Mr. McCauley to blame Sabitha’s father Ken (Pearce) for everything. Ken is a recovering drug addict that’s got a deep charm hiding his inner demons, so he’s hardly going to be anyone’s pick for father of the year. Almost as a joke, Sabitha begins to try and set up Johanna and Ken, mostly for her own amusement. The impact of this prank is completely lost on her, but before long Johanna is using this as a way to get a new start for her life. Of course, things won’t go smoothly for anyone, but once the initial plot elements are set up, not a whole lot is done with them. This movie becomes a character study, just one without any especially compelling characters to study.
The main compliment that I can give this film is that it features some very solid acting. Getting a chance to stretch herself, Kristen Wiig shows that she can handle dramatic material in a way that some might not have believed previously. She’s hardly a revelation, and is better with comedy, but she doesn’t embarrass herself whatsoever. In fact, this is probably one of her better performances overall, limited as it may be. Had this been a better flick, Wiig might have had some kind of an Oscar campaign launched on her behalf. By that same token, both Guy Pearce and Hailee Steinfeld are solid here, though they’ve turned in better performances before. Pearce has done similar sorts of roles before, while Steinfeld gets to grow up a touch on screen here. Aside from them, Nick Nolte is fine in a role that doesn’t require too much from him, but he probably could have given more. He’s not bad, just capable of wowing more than he did. Some of the other performances in the flick are given by the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christine Lahti, Sami Gayle, and a few others. That being said, the ones of note are Pearce, Steinfeld, and Wiig, with Wiig being the one who manages to impress to some degree.
Director Liz Johnson and scribe Mark Poirier definitely had something in mind when adapting Alice Munro‘s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”, but it never comes across on the screen. Johnson has things move at a snail’s pace and Poirier never gives the characters much to do. I’ll credit Johnson for getting some decent enough performances from her cast, but that’s about all I can praise her for. There are moments throughout where the plot threatens to kick into gear and make things take an interesting turn, but it just never happens. At a certain point, you just stop caring and begin hoping for it to end.
Overall, Hateship Loveship is just thoroughly mediocre and a waste of the talent involved. Unless you’re a big fan of someone involved, you can safely skip this one. It’s an indie movie without much of a purpose to exist, and while it won’t inspire any venom, it does inspire a lot of shoulder shrugs. All involved will likely have better things in their near future, so it pays to just sit back and wait for that all to come to fruition.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!