MRR Review: "Hateship Loveship"

Photo Credit: IFC Films

Rating: R
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Directed by: Liza Johnson
Genre: Drama

"Hateship Loveship" tells the heartwarming story of Johanna Parry, a naïve caretaker who accepts a job looking after Sabitha, a very troubled teenager. Johanna is forced to adapt to Sabitha's mischievous antics as well as those of Ken, Sabitha's father, a recovering drug addict who takes advantage of those around him. Johanna's journey is one of self-discovery, as she shows kindness and charity to the dysfunctional family she learns to love along the way.

The film begins at a slow, leisurely pace, allowing the viewer to get to know Sabitha and her family. It becomes clear very early on that Sabitha and her father have a strained relationship at best. Ken and his father are frequently at odds, especially since the older man sees his own mistakes reflected in his son. Ken may be charming on the surface, but his tentative recovery from drugs by no means stops him from getting into plenty of trouble. Johanna quickly realizes that Sabitha's mischievous streak comes from her father, and she begins to wonder if she has bitten off more than she can chew when it comes to helping the teenage girl. Ultimately, she decides to stick it out and do what she can. While Johanna initially tries to help repair the family dynamics, she soon becomes the victim of a cruel prank by Sabitha and her teenage friend. The girls decide to send a fake letter to Johanna from Sabitha's father, but their scheme quickly gets out of hand. Johanna begins sending heartfelt replies to Ken's supposed letters, and the sheltered caregiver finds herself developing very real feelings as a result of his fake correspondences.

The highlight of "Hateship Loveship" occurs when Johanna decides to visit Ken after receiving his latest letter. Although she notifies him through the email address that Sabitha and her friend have been using, her visit is a complete surprise to Ken himself, since their budding long-distance relationship is news to him. What begins as mutual confusion turns into a shared experience that neither Ken nor Johanna will ever forget. Their initial meeting may not have gone well, and their long-distance affair may have been a sham, but what they end up building in the following days is both genuine and special.

"Hateship Loveship" may seem like just another romantic drama on the surface, but shortly after the movie begins, it becomes clear that it is so much more. Kristen Wiig gives a brilliant performance as Johanna, capturing the character's innocence and self-doubt with a pitch-perfect tone. Although Wiig is typically known for her comedic roles, Johanna is a refreshingly vulnerable and somber addition to her credit list. Guy Pearce gives an equally admirable turn as Ken, and he brings a gritty, intelligent edge to the character. The chemistry between the two is slow to form, but once it does it is surprisingly strong and charming.

"Hateship Loveship" is not afraid to tackle serious issues. From issues of generational misunderstanding to a teenager's reaction to her broken family, this film is relevant and touching. As the film progresses, Ken learns that Johanna comes from an extremely sheltered background, leading her to live more in her head than in the world around her. There are many more examples of superb character development throughout the film, making it thought-provoking as well as endearing. The supporting cast members are equally well-rounded, including Hailee Steinfeld as Sabitha and Nick Nolte as Ken's father. An intriguing subplot of the film is the way in which Sabitha unintentionally plays matchmaker between her nanny and her father. Sabitha is forced to come to terms with the consequences of her own behavior and goes through her fair share of growing up throughout the movie.

"Hateship Loveship" may be a star-studded film with well-known writers and a director famous for creating dramatic films, but it has the charming quality of an independent film. The movie soundtrack perfectly accents the storyline, lending a subtle musical backdrop to each scene. The small-town setting is a visual treat, full of warm colors and nostalgic tones. Even the costuming reflects this signature vintage appeal.

For those who love intelligent dramas with just a hint of quirky comedy, "Hateship Loveship" is too good to pass up. The acting is superb, and the movie is filled with stellar performances from actors excelling well outside of their comfort zones. The gradual tone setting and character development at the beginning of the film pay huge dividends as the story unfolds into a truly unique masterpiece.