Hollywood and/or Hollywood-types have a long fascination in depicting what they perceive “the regular folks” to look like in America. Often times, I hate to say that it ain’t pretty. Commoners are shown to be gun-toting, Bible-quoting racists, or they’re given over to wildly unpredictable thought patterns all in favor of satisfying some unexplained yearning for primal violence. But every now and then a picture like HATESHIP LOVESHIP comes out, and it shows that not everyone in Tinseltown thinks so poorly of us. Granted, it still may not say anything all that positive about us; however it does underscore how willing we are to ‘flex’ what are definitions of love, family, and compassion look like out here in the day-to-day.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “In her first dramatic role, Kristen Wiig … as Johanna, a profoundly shy, shabby housekeeper hired to care for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) and his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). Despite her outgoing nature, Sabitha carries wounds from the death of her mother years before, while her father (Guy Pearce) is a hapless recovering drug addict with a certain ragged charm. In an act of mean-spirited rebellion, Sabitha fosters a pseudo-relationship between Johanna and her father through a series of forged emails, never dreaming of the potential harm. However, Johanna is not a demure cut-out, but rather a woman for whom the phrase ‘still waters run deep’ could have been coined …”
There’s a bit more, but methinks you get the gist. Suffice it to say without spoiling anything the bit with the forged emails isn’t entirely Sabitha’s doing – in the film, she has an on-and-off high school girlfriend who instigates for more wrongdoing in that act than Sabitha does; she eventually bows out of that plotline entirely when their friendship goes south. Still, it’s the catalyst that sets HATESHIP LOVESHIP in motion, and it serves the narrative very well.
The film works very well as a performance piece for all of these players. Some of the luster of Kristen Wiig’s performance is a bit of publicity hype; she certainly does an affable job playing such an affable character, but I would’ve preferred knowing a bit more about Johanna’s life story as parts of this tale defy logic. (It’s a minor but valid point.) Nolte gruffs and grates his way through another screen performance. The lovely Christine Lahti shows up and wrings great effect out of such slim running time. Hailee Steinfeld hits all of her marks; as a teen, she’s torn between rebelliousness and her allegiance to her grandfather in just the ‘movie magic’ amounts.
The lone straggler here (so far as I’m concerned) is Guy Pearce, who just never quite slipped into his role as easily as I’ve seen him do elsewhere. His Ken is a bit of a lovable swindler with a mildly treacherous past; as the film unfolds, it becomes clear he hasn’t given up his scandalous ways (drinking, drugs, cheap women, etc.), and the script never gives him what I felt was a legitimate ‘aha’ moment when he realizes the error of his ways in achieving what he still dreams for: the life beyond his present circumstance. Instead, he’s still rewarded with opportunity after opportunity by those around him – even Wiig’s character just goes with the flow – so there’s never a clear indication that he’s honestly remorseful over the pain he either directly or indirectly afflicts.
Still, HATESHIP perseveres – much like America’s Midwesterners do – through one crisis after another. That message – the one that families do go on – is a welcome change from so much of what the big studios normally try to stuff down our cultural throats. We, as a people, continue to move forward with our lives almost in spite of the hardships that cause us to stumble along the way. In that respect, I think the film deserves accolades.
Lastly, the flick loosely finagles a FORREST GUMP-style charm about Wiig’s Johanna, but director Liza Johnson isn’t quite sure what it all means in the final summation. Either was I.
HATESHIP LOVESHIP (2013) is produced by The Film Community, Benaroya Pictures, Fork Films, Union Entertainment Group, and Venture Forth. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group under the IFC Films label. As for the technical specifications, no expense was spared in bringing this charming little picture to life, and the product retains some high quality sights and sounds, along with some winningly wholesome cinematography. If it’s special features you’re looking for, then prepare for the disappointment: there aren’t any.
RECOMMENDED. At best, I could describe HATESHIP LOVESHIP as a welcome curiosity. Come its ending, I’m not entirely certain what the point of all of it was except to deliver what those involved believed was a heartfelt drama trying to underscore maybe kinda/sorta what life was like for all of those peace-loving Midwesterners of the U.S. of A. Performances were solid, though I thought Guy Pearce was a bit miscast, and a good time was had by all.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of HATESHIP LOVESHIP by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.