I mention Dooneese because the character gives some context for Wiig’s particular set of acting chops. She has an all-consuming physical humor and an enthusiasm for ugly weirdos. Even Bridesmaids, Wiig’s 2010 screenwriting debut, is known for its great feats of physical comedy: it’s so hard to pick just one example but here’s a scene where Wiig takes anti-anxiety medication on a plane. The way she moves her arms and mouth is so bizarrely funny.
What I’m getting at is this: as a melancholy, small-town, domestic drama, Hateship Loveship seemed like it would be a total departure for Wiig. Based on a short story by Alice Munro, the film centers on Johanna (Wiig), a young woman hired as housekeeper for an older man and his granddaughter; the girl’s mother has died and her father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is a deadbeat addict who lives in a nearby city.
Johanna is uneducated and naive, so when the granddaughter pretends to be her own deadbeat dad and corresponds with Johanna via email -- a cameo by my favorite 21st century phenomenon, catfishing -- she falls head over heels for Ken and shows up at his apartment, ready to move in. Johanna immediately picks up the housekeeper role in this new place, cleaning and caretaking even after it’s clear she’s been pranked. Ken is sort of surprised when she arrives, and even more so when she stays, but you get the idea that this guy has spent most of his adult life in a fog: he’s pretty laid back about the whole thing.
These are characters stuck in cycles of self-destruction, poverty, addiction, and depression. But through the unlikely casting of Wiig as Johanna, the film finds real moments of lightness and humor. Wiig crawls through windows, makes out with her reflection in a mirror, tries to hide in plain sight behind a tree, and generates the weirdest smile when Ken kicks his drugged-up ex-girlfriend out of their home. Scenes that could have been somber or unremarkable instead became triumphantly funny.
I kept thinking about how Wiig was able to play this character so convincingly. Ultimately, I decided that Hateship Loveship is what would happen if you took one of Wiig’s SNL characters and gave them a serious, thoughtful, dramatic narrative arc. Johanna is weird, awkward, full of nervousness and tics and discomfort; she walks strangely -- with her hands straight down in front of her thighs -- and I can just see the SNL sketch about the hapless housekeeper who keeps falling for increasingly ridiculous online pranks and scams. But in this film, Wiig approaches her character with kindness and thoughtfulness, and it turns out to be a rather warm and engaging portrayal.
Eliza Rosenberry was a founding e-board member of NUFEC and graduated from Northeastern in 2011. She currently lives in Brooklyn and does book publicity for Blue Rider Press. Find her on Twitter @elizarosenberry.