Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hateship, Loveship (2013)

The post-feminist age bottles up Cinderella as a suburban wish fulfilment fantasy for all the Mary Sues out there

Kristen Wiig plays a socially stunted, dowdy, middle-aged live-in caregiver/nanny/domestic who gets her belated coming of age when her new teenage charge (Hailee Steinfeld) manages to convince, via a long series of pranks, that her estranged father (Guy Pearce as a never-do-well jailbird inhabiting a crumbling motel with a trashy junkie played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) has the hots for her.

The first act establishes the premise that this colourless, mousy character who fades into the background via housework will get her sexual awakening, coming of age, and find her own voice and identity when she falls for the trick and finds a ratty, drug-addicted jailbird in a roach motel. Fair enough.

The rest of the film delivers a twist: this colourless, mousy character will get everything (reform the jailbird, get his sympathy and then passionate love, improve his lot, get a fairy tale ending) by continuing to disappear into the background via silent housework. I suggest that this twist ill-suits the premise, and diminishes the film as a work of indie cinema. A literary narrative would have the protagonist fail to achieve any of these, then recognise the fairy tale as the source of her naïve expectations, confront it, and discard it. The twist that the film does offer is no better than a wish fulfilment fantasy, an anti-literary device.

That said, Hateship, Loveship makes for an engaging watch due to the minimalist performances of its cast, the low-key and controlled direction of Liza Johnson, and the flat cinematography of Kasper Tuxen.

It’s like watching a Wim Wenders drama where everything turns out absurdly and effortlessly all right. You know it’s wrong, it doesn't even make sense (why would a teenage girl need a nanny, and the one that gets hired does nothing but clean the house all day?), but it just looks right.

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