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HATESHIP LOVESHIP

WiigKitchenTwo teenage girls (Sami Gayle and Hailee Steinfeld) play a nasty trick on a seemingly fragile housekeeper (Kristen Wiig) who turns out to have surprising inner resources.

This delicate drama, directed by Liza Johnson, is based on a story by Canadian author Alice Munro (who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature in December 2013).

Excellent supporting performances by a relatively large cast (in  the Indie context) frame Wiig perfectly in her central role. (JLH: 4/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Not yet seen by Rich.

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Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi…

This is how Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro ends her exquisite story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: a teenage girl named Edith is sitting at a kitchen table doing homework while her mother babbles in the background.

“You must not ask, it is forbidden for us to know… what fate has in store for me, or for you.”

The quote comes from the Ode in which Horace invokes the famous words “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day!), but Munro wants none of that. And with all the changes director Liza Johnson and screenwriter Mark Poirier have made to Munro’s story, they have held fast to her underlying theme: The Law of Unintended Consequences.

The first time “Edith Schultz” (Sami Gayle) meets “Johanna Parry” (Kristen Wiig), the bright teenager sees only a patsy. Edith is the best friend of “Sabitha Boudreau” (Hailee Steinfeld), and Johanna is the new housekeeper Sabitha’s grandfather “Mr. McCauley” (Nick Nolte) has hired to care for them in his big old house.

Johanna arrives while Sabitha’s ne’er do well father “Ken” (Guy Pearce) is visiting, and Edith, ever watchful, quickly realizes that she can make some mischief by convincing Sabitha to fabricate a relationship between Johanna and Ken. Sami is not only very smart, she is also very angry. She really doesn’t care very much about Johanna. Her goal is to wound Sabitha by reminding her that despite all her material advantages, Sabitha is still the daughter of a loser. SamiFB

It’s a good plan, and Sabitha–blind to Edith’s true intentions–readily goes along with it. After all, she is angry too. Since her mother’s death, Sabitha has grown accustomed to living with her self-absorbed grandfather. Who wants dowdy old Johanna around to monitor her comings and goings? So Edith and Sabitha play a nasty trick on a seemingly fragile housekeeper, little suspecting what fate actually has in store for all of them.

This is a delicate drama that demands appreciation for the excellent acting that brings all these characters to life. Johnson and Poirier have updated the story, moving it from Canada circa 1960 to Iowa circa 2010. They have also sweetened the ending a bit giving Mr. McCauley and Sabitha much better futures than the ones Munro envisioned for them. But the thread connecting Sami and Johanna is still at the center, even though they only have one scene alone together at the very end of the film.

Playing Johanna, Kristen Wiig must begin as someone who believes she has no right to a future. Poirier’s screenplay compresses Johanna’s backstory, but Wiig still succeeds in capturing all of Munro’s intended emotion. Here is Munro describing Johanna’s trip to Milady’s Dress Shop: “Even when she was younger Johanna could never have contemplated such extravagance, not just in the matter of money but in expectations, in the preposterous hope of transformation, and bliss.” As the story unfolds, it is precisely Wiig’s dogged determination to face things the way they really are that eventually results in a seemingly preposterous transformation.

Playing Edith, on the other hand, Sami Gayle must begin as someone who believes she has every right to a future. Gayle doesn’t need to throw Munro’s Latin references at us, we know how smart Edith is from the bright gleam in her eyes as she looks around greedy for new opportunities.

Guy Pearce also does a fine job as Ken. Convinced that he has already destroyed his life, Ken is first confused and then amazed to learn that he might have a future after all too.

Christine Lahti and Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing two women totally different from Johanna, are also very good in small but critical roles that counterpoint Wiig’s lead performance.

I left Hateship Loveship very moved and I spent the next few days ruminating about the role of the Law of Unintended Consequences in my own life. Then I got my hands on Alice Munro’s story (which I had not read before) and ruminated for a few days more. Horace was right:

“You must not ask, it is forbidden for us to know… what fate has in store for me, or for you.”

WiigMilady

Top Photo: Close-Up of Kristen Wiig as “Johanna Parry” in the kitchen of the McCauley home.

Bottom Photo: Suddenly considering new options, Johanna ventures into Milady’s (the fanciest dress shop in town) at the end of Act One.

Photo Credits: Patti Perret/Hateship Capital LLC. An IFC Films Release.

NOTE: The photo of Sami Gayle (who plays the crucial role of “Edith”) is from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=270717089617397 Unfortunately, jpgs from Hateship Loveship are really sparse (even on the IFC site for critics!), so I am not able to show photos that depict the things I most want to say about this film…

Q: Does Hateship Loveship pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Yes!

There are many lovely scenes in this film in which female characters–women and girls–have conversations with one another that have nothing to do with men.

From the opening moments (in which Johanna is caring for elderly Mrs. Willets) to the closing moments (when Johanna makes eye contact with Edith at the high school graduation, and they each both appraise and acknowledge one another), Hateship Loveship is filled with conversations that appear low key but are in fact brimming with subtle significance.

Even in the scene in which Johanna has her one solo conversation with “Chloe” (Jennifer Jason Leigh), they’re really not “talking about Ken” (played by Guy Pearce). What they are actually doing is sizing each other up, each one trying to figure out how to deal with this new woman who has unexpectedly appeared in Ken’s apartment.

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