NEW YORK—One can go two ways after watching “Hateship Loveship,” the dramatic love story starring Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce. One can either admire Wiig’s command of her somber character Johanna Parry, or get lost in the slow but intentional telling of a nontraditional love story.
The film is based on “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage,” a 2001 short story by Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro.
“It’s really a beautiful story,” said director Liza Johnson during a phone interview. She was attracted to the simplicity and relatability of the story to modern-day life.
“Hateship Loveship” tells the story of the timid Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig), a caretaker who was assigned to the teenage granddaughter of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld).
But the rebellious Sabitha, who lost her mother in an accident, starts a fake letter correspondence between Johanna and her father Ken (Guy Pearce), who is a recovering drug addict. Neither of them is aware of Sabitha’s hand in the matter, but Johanna develops feelings for Ken and pursues him. The clueless Ken slowly warms up to Johanna’s caring nature.
For Johnson, the story is very close to what real love stories often look like.
“It’s not melodramatic, and it’s not the full Cinderella treatment,” Johnson said.
It’s about going through the different stages of love and relationships—which don’t necessarily progress in the order of the words in the original title “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.”
“To me, it’s clear that life doesn’t happen in that order,” Johnson said. “That’s not the order that things happen in for Johanna,” she said.
Choosing Kristen Wiig
For Johanna’s character, Wiig was an easy pick. Johnson had the comedienne in mind when writer Mark Poirier brought the script in for a revision.
“Obviously, it’s a different register of performance for her,” she said, but Wiig had no problem going from “Saturday Night Live” sketch comedy to this serious, almost stoic style of acting.
“Thematically, I thought she would understand the character,” Johnson said. The similarity to Wiig’s previous work is that there’s always a need to respond to awkward situations, or for the character to pursue what she can’t have, or acting like nothing’s wrong in embarrassing situations.
When Johanna shows up to see Ken, with marriage on her mind, she brings up the letters he’s presumably been sending. When his response makes it clear that the whole correspondence has been a sham, Johanna swallows this potentially game-changing fact and proceeds to scrub the floor.
As Johanna’s rosy idea of Ken slowly gives way to his true character, she must set her boundaries and decide whether she can really spend her life with him.
“Maybe we all fall in love with the idea of the person, and then you have to figure out whether you can tolerate who they really are,” Johnson said. For the director, this is how love is like in real life, even in the age of online dating.
Even though the original story is set right after World War II, the film is set in the present, but the change in setting made little difference in illustrating the awkward and frustrating stages of dating and mating.
“Maybe that’s what we’ve always done and what we still do.”
Director: Liza Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Hailee Steinfeld
Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Release Date: April 11