Middle-aged Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig) is a dour, shy, and very responsible housekeeper who is working for an elderly woman. When she dies peacefully in her sleep, we withness Joanna's deep and rich caring impulse when she single-handedly locates, irons, and puts the dead lady's favorite dress on her body.
She takes up a new job as a housekeeper for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) who is a widower living with his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). She comes across as a socially awkward person and as a result, the first one to take a liking to this stranger is Sabitha's hedonistic father Ken (Guy Pearce), an ex-convict who is trying to convince his father-in-law to lend him some money to purchase a run-down motel in Chicago.
The whole family is still suffering from the tragic death of Ken's wife in a car crash when he was drunk. Along with feeling this loss, Sabitha is bored until her friend Edith (Sami Gayle) comes up with the idea of a prank designed to humiliate Johanna; they consider the housekeeper a bit of a Mary Poppins figure. The teenagers set up a fake email address for Ken and start sending emails to Johanna. She replies, convinced of his interest in her. One day she packs up and takes the bus to Chicago, ready to begin an exciting new chapter in her uneventful life. Her entry into Ken's tawdry life signals his farewell to his junkie girlfriend Chloe (Jennifer Jason Lee).
Hateship Loveship is directed by Liza Johnson based on a short story by Canadian writer Alice Munro. The convincing screenplay is by Mark Poirier. After her smashing break-through comic performance in Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig authentically conveys the subtle transformations that overtake Johanna once she takes her leap of faith. She still derives pleasure keeping a house neat and clean but it is the sexual delights with Ken that open the doors to new possibilities she had never believed possible for herself.
Guy Pearce shines as an addict who has reached the end of the line and thanks to Johanna's love is ready to get serious and put his life in turnaround. The one who is most stunned by the new developments is Sabitha, a teenager whose tough exterior is softened by the quiet, giving, and forgiving nature of the woman who loves her father, for better and for worse.
Alice Munro is a Canadian writer who in known for her short stories with keen psychological insights into their characters. Director Liza Johnson has changed the setting of the drama from Ontario and Saskatchewan to Iowa and Chicago. The ending is different in the film but it is still possible for both readers and filmgoers to empathize with Johanna's transformations.
Another sensitive and immensely talented film director, Sarah Polley, demonstrated her respect for Munro's artistry and nuanced appreciation of human nature when she chose to adapt the last story in "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" in her 2006 movie Away From Her.
Why all this interest in Alice Munro's stories? You can find the answer to that question in an interview with the writer after she won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. When Munro was too sick to accept the award in Stockholm, she was interviewed in her home by the Swedish Academy. Go here to watch the interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgKC_SDhOKk.
In this wide-ranging conversation, Munro states that "any life can be interesting," making her point with this statement, which seems to be very relevant to the film version of her short story:
"I want my stories to move people — I don't care if they are men or women or children. I want my stories to be something about life that causes people not to say, 'Oh, isn't that the truth,' but to feel some kind of reward from the writing. And that doesn’t mean that it was to have a happy ending or anything — but just that everything the story tells moves [you] in such a way that you feel you're a different person when you finish."