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Don’t let the poster for Hateship Loveship fool you – although the color scheme behind Kristen Wiig brings to mind the comic atmosphere she emitted during Bridesmaids, it’s a character study that functions as a drama. Bringing comic actors in to give drama the college try is common enough, but an actor’s picture can’t hold water if the characters aren’t able to give the cast something to work with. It can’t even pass the Peter Griffin test: After firing a bomb through a drive-in screen during The Even Couple because it didn’t contain conflict, a film like this can force him to get another missile.
It doesn’t help that the central character’s a bonehead. Even a confused housecleaner like the one Wiig plays can’t allow anybody to con her as dramatically as this, but that’s what happens after a client dies and Johanna (Wiig) begins carrying out her new duties at the home of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), which finds her acting as a de facto guardian for granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). As for the girl’s dad Ken (Guy Pearce), the blame he accepts for the death of her mother could have something to do with the thank-you letter he composed for Johanna, an act of kindness she believes contains a hint of infatuation. As awful as it is for Sabitha and buddy Edith (Sami Gayle) to get her hopes up by assuming his identity and responding, anybody as air-headed as Johanna’s begging someone to abuse her.
If that assessment appears drastic, consider that after they bump up correspondence from letters to email, all it takes is Edith coming up with the idea of contacting her as Ken and asking her to come live with him in Chicago for her to arrange to have movers get Mr. McCauley’s furniture and bring it over. The real dolts here could be Sabitha and Edith – it’s likely Johanna could’ve forked over cash if they claimed to be from Nigeria.
As if that asinine behavior isn’t enough to bog down a film, the acting talents cast pearls before swine by being faithful to these characters, although Pearce and Gayle don’t buckle under pressure as greatly as the additional actors. Apart from that, they have to compete against characters who don’t realize the chances they get to incite conflict, right down to Ken’s lover (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s content with dealing Johanna dirty looks as opposed to interpreting her arrival as a deterrent to her own interest in him. Coming with the tagline, “Dare to care,” audiences aren’t getting any motivation to do so.