“Hateship Loveship” (2014)
When we first meet Johanna (Kristen Wiig) is seems she is living in the 1950’s. She wears old fashioned lace up shoes, dress that seem to be bought at a 5 & 10 store and when she does housework, an apron so old fashioned that you might have seen on “Leave it to Beaver.” She works as a caretaker for an elderly woman who suddenly, though not unexpectedly, dies. As Johanna quietly goes about fulfilling the woman’s last request of wanting to wear her blue dress, we learn that she is loyal, hardworking and determined. We also learn, as the oxygen supply picks up the old tanks, that she has a new job in a new city set up by her clergy.
Johanna arrives by bus to her new city to work for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) as a live-in maid/nanny. McCauley lives with his teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), who is estranged from her recovering addict, ex-con of a father, Ken (Guy Pearce). We soon learn that Sabitha’s mother (McCauley’s daughter) was killed in a car accident caused by Ken.
Sabitha is a little out of control, especially when around her best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), who encourages her to drink and act up. Sabitha, while adoring her father, seems to have never recovered from her mother’s death and Ken, makes things worse by living in another town, only seeing his daughter when he wants something from McCauley. Now Johanna is thrown into a family at the brink of a breakdown, and we get the feeling that no matter what Johanna does Sabitha isn’t going to allow her to become any sort of a mother figure.
After a chance encounter with Ken in a bathroom as he was stealing McCauley’s drugs, Joanna visibly reacts with a blush and a tiny smile when Ken calls her “gorgeous.” When Ken sends Joanna a short thank you note for taking care of Sabitha, Joanna responds as if it is from “Romeo” himself, and immediately responds. Edith and Sabitha intercept the return note from Joanna and then launch an elaborate scheme to interact with Joanna, posing as Ken.
Wiig gives the performance of her career, creating a character that in any other actress’s hands would come off strange and unsympathetic. But we slowly fall in love with Joanna, understanding that this is a woman who at her core just wants to care for someone and have them care back. Wiig, using just little tells, gives us insight into the simple on the outside but emotionally complex Joanna, so that in every scene, if we watch carefully we will discover more about her character.
Guy Pearce plays Ken as a man who cares about his daughter but can’t overcome the demons of this past enough to change for her. He is a man that seems to be filled with quilt, but keeps making the same mistakes, whether it’s with drugs or his relationships. Ken is a man that isn’t going to change unless something drastic happens, and Pearce lets us see this through his reactions with the people that he cares about.
Hailee Steinfeld is very moving in her performance of Sabitha, a girl who is desperate for attention, even if it comes from the wrong places. Steinfeld plays the character as someone who is constantly observing people, seeing how they will react to her interactions before she proceeds. The rest of the cast is outstanding, with Nick Nolte, in a very restrained performance, leading the way. Instead of chewing up scenery and dominating the screen, he is quiet and thoughtful, letting the scenes play out without overreaction. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Ken’s addict girlfriend and Christine Lahti plays a love interest for Nolte’s character.
Director Liza Johnson does a phenomenal job of getting great performances out of her cast. She lets us sit back and slowly discover new things about the characters, never quite knowing which direction the film will take. The film has an incredible soundtrack by Dickon Hinchliffe, with most of the music in the film is provided by songs played on radios that perfectly match the moods and emotions of the scenes they are in. The screenplay, written by Mark Poirier, never gives us too much at one time and lets the characters speak through their actions more than their words. It’s a film where the audience hopes that each character in the film can find love and peace, and maybe with Wiig’s Johanna at the center of the action, they will find it. My Rating: Full Price
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“Hateship Loveship” is playing exclusively at the Plaza Theatre