‘Hateship Loveship’ charms with intimate, moving story

‘Hateship Loveship’ directed by Liza Johnson ’92 is currently showing at Images to high praise. Photo courtesy of teaser-trailer.com
‘Hateship Loveship’ directed by Liza Johnson ’92 is currently showing at Images to high praise. Photo courtesy of teaser-trailer.com

This week, Images Cinema is showing the indie drama Hateship Loveship, starring Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte and Hailee Steinfeld. Liza Johnson ’92, professor of art and chair of the American studies program at the College, directed the film.
The basic premise of the movie – that of a scandalous relationship between a housekeeper and the son of the man who hired her to care for his motherless, teenaged granddaughter – when taken at face value seems to be tired and unoriginal. But the intimate filming style, flourishing network of plot lines branching off from the premise and a quirky, conflicted protagonist, renders it a well-put together, unique film.
In Hateship Loveship, Wiig plays the late 20-something Johanna Parry, a sheltered and disillusioned housemaid. Johanna has to uproot her life after the death of old Mrs. Wellet, whom she had been taking care of since she was a teenager. She is then welcomed somewhat guardedly into the household of the wealthy Mr. McCauley, played by Nolte, who intends her to take care of his teenage granddaughter Sabitha, played brilliantly by Steinfeld. While he does not have custody of his own daughter, Pearce’s character Ken McCauley is Sabitha’s degenerate yet caring father, whose latest scheme to strike it big is to refurbish a rundown motel in Chicago. Ken’s rugged good looks and cursory politeness toward her immediately entrance the naïve Johanna. Sabitha and her “best friend friend” Edith then pick up on this infatuation. In an act of good old-fashioned teenage cruelty fueled by the friends’ inner jealousies towards each other and a whole lot of peer pressure, the friends fabricate a romantic email correspondence between Ken and Johanna once Ken returns to Chicago. Johanna is led to believe that Ken is madly in love with her, and leaves her steady job to move in with him, only to realize that her romance had been one-sided all along. But since she’s unable to return back to the McCauley’s, she stays with Ken and they eventually find real love.
The movie is based on Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage,” and carries the nuances of a film adapted from a renowned written work. While the setting was transferred from 1950’s rural Ontario to the Midwest in the present day, there are a number of elements in the film that carry lingering vestiges of an earlier time. Most significant are the visual and stylistic details put into Johanna’s characterization. From her demure behavior to the prim frocks and cardigans that are often juxtaposed to an amusing effect with Ken’s casual t-shirts, Johanna gives the immediate impression of having tumbled out of a time machine into the 21st century. Also, her emphatic subscription to the outdated “cult of domesticity” – highlighted by countless shots of Johanna acting as the perfect housewife and scrubbing away her feelings with a rag on a dirty motel room floor – certainly cannot be ignored, and reveal Johanna as an unlikely heroine far removed from the fiercely independent, Jennifer-Lawrence type female that we’ve come to expect from films lately. At first, I was unsure as to whether I could even like or empathize with Johanna as a character. In the beginning of the film, the palpably awkward eye-contact she would make with everyone was almost comedic at first, but as the film progressed and she developed a genuine romance with Ken, a determined and appealing side of her emerged.
As the plot progresses, Johanna’s timidity does not render her as weak and easily manipulated as one might assume. Through engaging with the harshness of reality outside the bubble of domesticity she’s been accustomed to and discovering herself, Johanna’s naïveté soon evolves into a determined and passionate love that captures Ken’s heart, all the while helping him to straighten out his life. Because while he might be in tune with modernity, Ken’s escapism into the abyss of drug abuse and excuses ironically made him disillusioned to reality to a degree comparable to Johanna. Thus two diversely imperfect characters are able to complete each other against all odds, and a convincing love story is engendered.
Having never seen a movie with Kristen Wiig, I personally am unable to attest to the fact that Wiig’s performance in her subdued yet pivotal role in this film is comparable to her comedic prowess in films like Bridesmaids. Nor do I believe that it’s fair to judge an actor’s performance on the same scale between two radically different types of film (although some critics I’ve perused online would beg to differ). The plot of this film is certainly more quietly intellectual than it is humorous or tear-jerking. Regardless, the passion and pureness of familial and romantic love is captured with potent authenticity. So if you’ve got the time before the rush of finals, be sure to catch Hateship Loveship, in theaters today at 4:30, 7 or 9 p.m. It will also have its final showings this Thursday at 7 and 9 p.m.