Liza Johnson‘s Hateship Loveship opens as Johanna (Kristen Wiig) takes care of an elderly woman, but upon her patient’s dying in her sleep, she must move on. She has no assumptions and no attachments – no family, no friends, no work. Leaving behind her life (or lack thereof) of servitude, she stumbles upon the household of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte). His son-in-law, Ken (Guy Pearce), is in town visiting his daughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld).
Ken leaves, but a letter he wrote to Johanna changes everything for her – maybe it’s a new beginning. Johanna pursues this budding friendship with a letter of her own, but Ken never gets that letter. Sabitha and her close friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), prank Johanna by assuming Ken’s identity online and sending her romantic letters. Johanna decides to finally take some initiative in light of her new “love,” but as we in the knowing audience expect, things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Hateship Loveship features strong work from its actors, but its unfocused script takes shots in the dark at addressing relationships between people – how they bloom and how they perish. None of the relationships here seem to function based on logic. What significance does the dissolving of a certain friendship serve? What’s important about the relationship between Nolte’s stubborn grandfather and Christine Lahti’s bank employee? There’s an amusing scene between Nolte and Steinfeld, but what is its purpose? What happens to Ken’s girlfriend played wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh?
Most significantly, though, is that the romance central to Hateship Loveship doesn’t quite work. Wiig shines as the timid Johanna, slowly pulling back her layers in a turn that promises great things for her budding talents as a dramatic actress. You also believe Pearce as the deadbeat father and love interest – he plays it with complication and conviction missing from the script. But their relationship never feels natural and always feels forced; it’s little different elsewhere.
Hateship Loveship gathers and connects a small group of characters but rarely takes them beyond transitory conversations and interactions; something is just missing here. Maybe there were some problems in the editing room? I imagine that a few more scenes explaining and complicating the relationships between these characters would have made for a more fascinating, insightful film. Hateship Loveship is too eager to reach its seemingly predefined conclusion that it takes little time developing its characters to make such a conclusion believable.