Kristen Wiig has been gradually trying her hand at the dramatic genre ever since 2013's Girl Most Likely. In Hateship Loveship, an adaptation of Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Johanna Parry (Wiig) plays a gawky caretaker/cleaning woman who finds herself watching over an adolescent girl named Sabitha (Hailee Steinfield), whose father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is too drug-addled and unreliable to be trusted. Sabitha lives with her aging grandfather, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), and is largely apathetic toward Johanna, except when it comes to playing a cruel joke on her with her best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle). The two decide it would be amusing to send love letters to Johanna under the guise of being Ken to watch her prudish, demure nature unravel at the seams.
With the tag line "Dare to care," Hateship Loveship has an emphasis on human indifference, generally as a result of fear. In both Johanna and Sabitha's case, caring is an action that has never gotten them very far--usually resulting in an emotional fallout. Sabitha's impenetrable air stems from the recent death of her mother--caused by her father getting in a car accident while intoxicated. The traumatic event has made her a hardened and impassive person who can't see past her own block of problems.
The common pattern in Wiig's dramatic performances is that they involve very little dialogue, thus Johanna is the type to silently judge and, in this way, shift people's behavioral tendencies. She does this first with Sabitha, and then her father, after stealing some antique furniture from Mr. McCauley and taking it to Chicago to live with Ken (under the delusion that he has been the one writing her love-filled emails all this time). Once she arrives, she is rudely awakened by Ken's oblivion to what she's talking about, and the fact that he's dating a fellow junkie named Chloe (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a typical hot mess of a role).
In the long run, however, Johanna's silent, determined tenacity wins Ken's heart (that, and her cleaning and cooking skills). He ultimately kicks Chloe out, starts snorting less drugs and even gets a promotion (two extra dollars an hour!). But all of the events leading up to this are, at times, painstakingly paced by director Liza Johnson, who has directed one previous film entitled Return. As for the adaptation of Munro's short story, screenwriter Mark Poirier (writer of Smart People and Goats) is parsimonious with dialogue--which is what film classicists prefer.
Hateship Loveship succeeds in showing the rapid evolution of/fine line between certain sentiments, but, for the most part, you can't, as the tag line insists, dare to care.