A film whose ultimate message is that, if you are a woman, you can win a man’s heart by doing all the cooking and cleaning, while also letting him steal your money, Hateship Loveship is … basically just that. It has no energy, questionable morals, no compelling characters or performances — but boy, does Kristen Wiig want it to — and it’s without a single memorable scene or moment. It’s a nothing film, filled with no reason to watch or enjoy.
We open with Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig) tending to an elderly woman, who then dies. Johanna is a caretaker/housekeeper who has worked for this elderly woman since a very young age, and has known no other life. Seemingly in the very next scene, she’s hired by a man named Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), who is quite rich. It’s his household she’ll be taking care of. Well, she’s primarily supposed to look after Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), whose mother died in a boating accident caused by her semi-estranged father, Ken (Guy Pearce). Mr. McCauley was given custody after the accident, as Ken was high and drunk at the time. Why was he allowed to drive the boat? Who knows?
However, Sabitha is not particularly fond of her new housekeeper, so along with a friend, she cooks up a scheme. She begins to have a correspondence with Johanna, a naive woman, posing as her father. Sabitha makes Johanna fall in love with Ken. Ken knows nothing of this. Eventually, Johanna and fake-Ken plan to have Johanna move in with real-Ken. So she does. Ken still knows nothing. Imagine his surprise when he wakes up and finds her scrubbing the kitchen floor.
Now, let’s pause for a minute and think about what you would do in a similar situation, regardless of which character you are. If you were Ken, would you let her move in and do everything for you, even after explaining to her that you never wrote those letters? If you were Johanna, would you move in with a man who has no feelings for you and do all the cooking and cleaning because … you wanted him to love you and this is how you think it works?
Look. There’s something to be mined here about broken people and the way they go about trying to find someone to love. Johanna is someone whose every moment was dedicated to caring for that lady, so it makes sense that she’d be naive and not really know how love works. She’s now pushing 40, she’s never been in a relationship, and despite being an incredibly nice person, she’s lonely and sad. That makes sense. But the film doesn’t explore any of that. I’m guessing that this is all true. There are hints, possibly, but nothing more than that. And Joe is someone who killed his wife and alienated himself from his daughter. He’s not trying very hard to repair that relationship, mind, but you can tell he’s a destroyed person. But, once again, the film doesn’t really go anywhere with that. The entire movie is filled with promise that remains uncapitalized upon once it comes to its conclusion.
And you’re only going to be able to get to its potential at all if you can get past what’s a pretty absurd premise. I’m not sure how you can listen to its plot and not laugh a little bit. Hateship Loveship isn’t a comedy, by the way; it wants to be a quiet little romantic drama. Yes, starring Kristen Wiig, who seemingly wants to branch out into dramatic acting. This isn’t the project for that. Her character is a quiet, unassuming, shell of a woman — but also someone emotionally repressed and completely lacking in depth. Whether that was the fault of someone behind the scenes or of Wiig, we won’t know, but this isn’t a role to be proud of. Staring blankly into space does not a subtle drama make.
I’m more willing to blame the screenplay and director than Wiig, though, as there are far more problems with the film than its lead actor. Take the random digressions it forces us to sit through, such as the subplot involving Mr. McCauley falling in love with a bank teller. These add nothing to the film. Its characters have no depth to them, either, which is probably a script issue — or, a source problem, as this is an adaptation of a short story (by Alice Munro, if you’re wondering).
There’s no attempt to generate drama or emotions. Everyone seems to stare blankly at one another. None of the actors appear invested in the material. Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up as Ken’s drug-addict girlfriend for a couple of scenes, and even that combination fails to generate a spark. It’s uneventful and silly. It makes you laugh even though that isn’t its intention. And there’s nothing to grasp onto while it plays. Nobody to relate to and no reason to care.
Hateship Loveship is a film for which I fall into the former category, although that’s far too harsh a reaction to a film like this one. It can’t generate that sort of emotion, one way or another. I watched it and found it boring, but I struggle to hate it. There are no redeeming qualities to it, but it’s so mundane that I couldn’t bring myself to find true disdain for it. Kristen Wiig was the wrong lead — although none of the actors get to do much — and the entire premise is ridiculous. This is a waste of your time.