Away from Her Type, by Aaron Pinkston
After leaving Saturday Night Live, predicting Kristen Wiig’s career in film was difficult. There was no doubt that she is an incredibly talented performer, but could her often wacky comedic voice play in Hollywood, especially with female-driven comedies typically helmed by the likes of Katherine Heigl? She scored big with her first stab, Bridesmaids, but hasn’t yet been able to follow up — aside from voice-work in two very successful animated films, her work biggest roles have come with small roles in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Anchorman 2. Three years later may finally be her time, albeit in lower-key films and dramatic turns in the upcoming The Skeleton Twins (with SNL co-star Bill Hader) and her newest film, Hateship Loveship.
Based on a short story from Nobel winning author Alice Munro, Wiig stars as Johanna, a shy caretaker who takes a job looking after a teenage girl named Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) who has recently lost her mother. She quickly finds that the family, including Sabitha’s father (Guy Pearce) and grandfather (Nick Nolte) have been torn up by the tragedy, with the untimely death being caused by the woman’s surviving husband. Being a bit misguided and seeing the weakness in her new guardian, Sabitha perpetrates a cruel joke on Johanna by pretending to be her father in a series of notes and emails. Lonely and vulnerable, Johanna gets wrapped up in the correspondence, hoping for a friend and perhaps a love interest.
This high-concept plot is surrounded by the lives of each character trying to move on and get better. Though it is mostly a pretty modest dramedy, Hateship Loveship tackles some big issues, particularly in Pearce’s Ken, a recovering drug addict who has had his family taken away. Overall, it doesn’t use these big issues to great dramatic effect, instead opting to be a slightly offbeat character study — in that way, it teases a lot in an unsatisfying way even though where it lands is perhaps more interesting.
After their fake relationship beings to fully bloom, Johanna is persuaded to pack up her things, take out her life savings, and move to Chicago to start a life with Ken. Of course, when she arrives she learns the truth about the scheme and what kind of man Ken really is. Despite his tenuous situation, Johanna stays with Ken, at first taking on her familiar role as a caretaker. The film is at its best in the various uncomfortable moments which would likely happen in this scenario with these people. There aren’t any real comedic moments, and it is difficult to describe Hateship Loveship as a comedy in general, but there is something here akin to a dark comedy that is meant to keep the audience uneasy. For much of the film I questioned the characters’ motivations and strained to believe their actions — in all, that keeps me from heartily loving the film even when I liked so much of it.
Hateship Loveship offers a wildly against-type character for Wiig, but she feels comfortable in the role. She manages to restrain just enough from her goofy tendencies to play an uncharismatic and naive woman who is still considered peculiar by most others. What’s more, Johanna is a role that demands no ego from its performer, as a character that mostly deserves pity — I imagine few of your typical Hollywood rom-com actresses would line up for the part. Wiig allows the character to be appropriately unlikeable to start. Like any similar movie character, you want her to find happiness, but are prepared for a train wreck. As the film goes on, however, Wiig’s natural charisma comes through so that the character deserves the support of the viewer, not just their pity, even when you can’t fully agree with her actions to stay with Ken. It is a fantastic turn from Wiig and a clear indication that she has a definite future leading films.