Uh oh, Kristen Wiig is stretching. Hateship Loveship, itself stretched from a short story by Alice Munro, is the former Saturday Night Live comedienne’s first go at drama. Wiig plays Johanna, a caretaker who is sent to a small town to help a well-to-do grandfather (Nick Nolte, dignified) watch over his 15-year-old granddaughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). The house is big and beautiful, Sabitha’s a little brat, and Sabitha’s largely absent father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is clearly a drug addict. And upon her discovery of this state of affairs when she arrives, Johanna has no visible reaction.
And thus Liza Johnson’s low-key film continues, with Wiig apparently believing that playing not-funny means having only one expression—though, to be fair, the expression sometimes flickers from plain ol’ blank to slightly awkward, slightly disapproving, or slightly weird. Zombies have more life in their eyes. Johanna also dresses in cardigans, ankle socks, and sensible shoes, and one scene reveals that she shampoos with bargain-basement Suave. Simple to the point of dullness: We get it.
Scripter Mark Poirier, who also penned 2008’s horrible Smart People, leans heavily on blatant exposition, so it doesn’t take the viewer or Johanna long to discover that Ken killed Sabitha’s mother while driving intoxicated and did some time. (If you want to know someone’s darkest secrets, maybe a father and his son-in-law will just happen to have what they believe is a private discussion about a long-ago accident the day you meet them.) Sabitha’s grandfather, credited as Mr. McCauley, won’t let Ken stay overnight. And the mother of Sabitha’s friend Edith (Sami Gayle) won’t let her accept rides home from Danger Dad. Toxic: We get it.
But also thoughtful! Ken leaves Johanna a note thanking her in advance for taking care of his daughter. When Johanna writes back, however, the letter is intercepted by Edith and Sabitha, and they decide to prank her. With Edith taking the lead, the two start sending Johanna messages that get more and more swoony, creating an email account so they can communicate more easily.
That’s when Hateship Loveship really nose-dives into “yeah, right.” It’s not spoiling much to reveal that Johanna falls for it and gets dreamy about someone she knows is a walking nightmare. Unconditional love can be beautiful—even between two train wrecks, such as in the much superior Leaving Las Vegas—but here it’s just extremely difficult to believe, regardless of the fact that the one who falls is a sheltered noob (sheltered, but somehow a tigress in bed).
The steps Johanna takes to find love are laughable, more indicative of mental illness than lifelong loneliness. The story strains to deliver sermons about acceptance, forgiveness, responsibility, connection. But the film and its developments are too unrealistic to inspire rumination on these subjects. Instead of daydreaming about love, you’ll think about how great it would be if Wiig busted out her SNL tiny-hands character, or at least cracked a smile.
Finding Vivian Maier Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Some people will excuse great artists for being jerks. But what if you’re not aware that a jerk is great artist? Finding Vivian Maier is John Maloof’s story about how his 2007 research for a book on Chicago’s history led him to a fateful discovery of old negatives and undeveloped film rolls at an auction. With a winning bid of $380, Maloof didn’t find anything appropriate for his book in the stash. But what was there ended up being more significant: a trove of a museum-worthy images by one Vivian Maier, who was so stubbornly private that Maloof’s Google search of her name turned up zero information. Still, he felt it was an investigation worth pursuing.
Using an address and a seven-digit phone number that were in the box, Maloof searched for someone who knew Maier—which led to more people, some of whom gave him more boxes. (Maier was a hoarder.) Soon Maloof possessed 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of color film, and 2,000 rolls of black and white film. Maier, Maloff found, was now deceased and had been a nanny. “Why is a nanny taking all these photos?” he wonders, his question reeking of condescension. The rest of Maier’s story unfolds in ways that are alternately surprising, somewhat interesting, and occasionally stupid, positing questions and contradictory discoveries seemingly for the sake of content. (The documentary is a mere 83 minutes.)
Maloof (whose co-director is Charlie Siskel) also films people who claim Maier would have been horrified about her photos being put on display. “She would have never let this happen,” one of Maier’s friends, Carol, says, and others echo the sentiment. Maloof admits to feeling “a little uncomfortable and guilty.” But then, he finds a letter from Maier to a Frenchman, proposing a business deal. So, Maloof deduces, she did want to present her work. Which is it, Maloof? Your documentary’s answers should not come in the form of questions.
Regarding jerkiness, well, revealing late-chapter anecdotes from the children Maier helped raise would spoil some of the sad, disturbing details of the “dark side” of the gifted woman. Never married—a New York archivist not-so-kindly uses the term “spinster”—Maier is said to have held an anger toward and fear of men. This allegation is just as curious as why she never showed her photos, though in a more deeply unsettling way. Before these revelations, though, the film isn’t quite so bleak, despite clear indications that Maier wasn’t just “eccentric” but mentally ill. It’s ultimately a celebration of Maier’s talent and passion, even if, until now, no one was aware of it but her.