Reel Women: In 'Hateship Loveship,' Kristen Wiig's Post-'SNL' Career Continues to Underwhelm

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IFC Films

Based on a short story by Alice Munro, ‘Hateship Loveship’ stars Kristen Wiig as the sheltered and homely caretaker Johanna who comes to work for a new family, only to have the teenage daughter fabricate a romance between her and the girl’s recovering addict father, played by Guy Pearce. Unfortunately, the film is woefully contrived and Wiig’s tame performance feels like just another underwhelming line on her post-’SNL’ resume.

There are glimpses throughout ‘Hateship Loveship’ of a more challenging character in Johanna: cringe-inducing moments where Wiig as the lonely, naive and introverted nanny (Wary Poppins, if you will) makes out with a mirror, or when she actually believes the letters sent from teenage Sabitha and her mischievous friend are from the girl’s father, and engages in a correspondence that is both heartbreaking and sort of funny. But even at an hour and almost 40 minutes, the film’s plot feels rushed, packed with Sabitha’s own coming of age lessons about being privileged when her friend is not, and what she can learn from an unwitting mother figure like Johanna (and vice versa), even when the latter takes off to rendezvous with her supposed lover -- not to mention an additional sub-plot about Sabitha’s grandfather (Nick Nolte) and his late-love life, and Ken’s struggle with drug addiction, issues with which the filmmakers seem to only have the most rudimentary knowledge, gleaned from an Afterschool Special about parental addiction. The film as a whole reads like a satire of a film, a movie about Very White People you might see a fake trailer for on ‘SNL,’ and one that Wiig herself might have starred in.

Before Wiig left ‘SNL,’ she delighted everyone with her role in ‘Bridesmaids,’ which she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, making her departure from ‘SNL’ bittersweet: while we were sad to see a shining star depart the 30 Rock stage, we were thrilled to see what she’d do next. But her post-’SNL’ career hasn’t exactly met expectations -- it’s unfair in a sense to be disappointed in Wiig’s output since 2013; what does she owe us, exactly, and how entitled are we to excellence from her when the perception of such excellence is subjective? These are her choices to make as an actress, and her career is not ours to dictate. That said, Kristen Wiig could do so much better.

Following her departure from ‘SNL,’ Wiig’s highlights have included playing the young Lucille Bluth via flashback on the fourth season of ‘Arrested Development’ and relishing in the soapy satire of the Will Ferrell and Adam McKay-produced IFC miniseries ‘The Spoils of Babylon’ -- a show which wears out its joke after a couple of episodes. She was also the perfect witless female match for Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland in ‘Anchorman 2,’ utterly hilarious in her minimal screen time. But these have been television roles and one supporting film role -- what of her film career?

In ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ Wiig played the boring love interest for Ben Stiller’s title character, a woman who exists merely to drive his plot forward, even appearing in his imagination in one scene to motivate him by singing a David Bowie song. She was the single mother, middle-class version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I’m hard-pressed to recall any defining characteristics of her character beyond those aforementioned. She portrayed the cinematic equivalent of a Nilla Wafer. Wiig also appeared in the 2013 indie film ‘Girl Most Likely’ as a failed playwright who fakes her own suicide when her boyfriend dumps her and has to move back home with her mother, where she falls for a much younger man. The film, like ‘Hateship Loveship’ felt slight and sort of hollow, never digging as deep as it could have, unnecessarily convoluted with ancillary plot instead of focusing on Wiig’s main character and the layers of her story. The problem with both ‘Hateship Loveship’ and ‘Girl Most Likely’ is that the films don’t focus enough on defining and exploring Wiig’s characters, and Wiig herself doesn’t appear to be very challenged by the material, nor does the material seem to play to her strengths.

Wiig isn’t just the goofy comedian of many voices from ‘SNL’ -- she proved that with ‘Bridesmaids,’ and early word on her performance in the upcoming indie ‘The Skeleton Twins’ is mostly positive. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the best non-’SNL’ performance we’ve seen from Wiig was in a film that she also co-wrote: the best creative work is often the most personal. Similarly, the best work Tina Fey has done she’s also written herself (‘30 Rock’), while her roles in the projects of other filmmakers haven’t been as wonderful (‘Admission,’ ‘Date Night’), with the exception of ‘Baby Mama.’ It’s unclear if or when Wiig will write again -- for now she has a few roles on the horizon, some of which are promising: playing a bipolar woman who wins the lotto and starts her own talk show in ‘Welcome to Me,’ co-starring in ‘Nasty Baby’ from the dark indie mind of Sebastian Silva (‘Magic Magic’ and ‘Crystal Fairy’), and starring in the drama ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ with Alexander Skarsgard and Christopher Meloni. It’s quite a variety of projects to showcase her versatility, but versatility has never been her problem.

Her last two indie films have been toothless, slight and haven’t given her the material she needs to stretch her muscles. It’s not that Wiig isn’t talented or versatile, she’s just not choosing projects that really allow her to flourish with smarter, well-rounded and fully-developed material. ‘Hateship Loveship’ and ‘Girl Most Likely’ are easy “woman coming of late age” concepts with the kind of roles Kristen Wiig could play in her sleep, which is why it feels like she’s sort of sleepwalking through them, while the actors around her seem to be getting more out of appearing in the film than she is. Whatever she does next, I’ll be watching because even when it’s bad, she’s still the most interesting person on the screen. I just hope her next film is as interesting as she is.

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