In Hateship Loveship, a movie adapted from a short story by Alice Munro and directed by Liza Johnson, quiet and naive Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig) starts working for a gruff elderly man, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte). His teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), who lives with him, cruelly tricks this new caregiver into believing that her father Ken (Guy Pearce) has romantic interest in her.
An important piece of the back story: Sabitha’s mom is dead because of an incident in which Ken was drunk at the wheel.
Justin Chang, Variety, explains how Sabitha’s con has roots in Ken’s kindness to Johanna:
…(H)e leaves the new housekeeper a note of encouragement — a nice gesture that Johanna, unaccustomed to being treated kindly or flirted with, takes it upon herself to answer. But her letter is intercepted by Sabitha and her troublemaking best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), who, rather than mailing it as promised, write back to Johanna pretending to be Ken. With the unthinking malice that can come so easily to teens with technology at their disposal, the girls initiate a friendly and increasingly intimate email correspondence with the unsuspecting Joanna, who becomes thoroughly smitten with the man she thinks is keeping up his end of the conversation.
Other notable characters in the film include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ken’s drug-addicted girlfriend and Christine Lahti as a bank employee who might become a romantic interest for Mr. McCauley.
Watch the trailer below:
Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:
She is so unworldly that when she is told to ‘set up a password’ at the library in order to use the computer, she asks the librarian, ‘My own word?’ She has worked in the service of others, as a housemaid/nanny/nurse since she was 15. Her voice is soft and flat, and when she speaks, she uses functional practical language. She has feelings about the families with whom she lives, but you would never guess any of it looking at her face. She has no self-pity. And so, when Johanna suddenly awakens to love, early on in ‘Hateship Loveship,’ it is both electrifying and perilous. She is not used to being overwhelmed with feelings, sexual and romantic, and she doesn’t know how to behave; she doesn’t know where to put it all.
Justin Chang, Variety: “It’s an on-the-nose metaphor, perhaps, but for this quietly capable woman, cleaning house isn’t just a responsibility but also an escape, a form of therapy, and a far more practical solution than sulking or lashing out.”
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(W)e’ve never seen a protagonist quite like Johanna, who on the one hand personifies female self-abnegation at its most domesticated, but on the other embodies the sheer will at its most stubborn. She knows the value of elbow grease, whether she’s redeeming a dirty kitchen floor or even a scruffier human soul.”
Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:
His kindness to Johanna is not targeted or creepy, but automatic and casual. He is filled with self-loathing over his mistakes: his drug addiction, being a terrible dad unable to take care of his daughter, and knowing that everyone thinks he is a loser. But watch how he approaches McCauley about a loan for the motel he wants to fix up in Chicago…Ken is a guy who buys his own lines, at least while he is saying them. It’s a complex character, in other words, and ‘Hateship Loveship’ lets him be complex. It doesn’t ask us to come down on one side or the other. His actions are often reprehensible. And sometimes he is beautifully warm and accepting. Both are true.