Former SNL MVP Kristen Wiig is on sabbatical from making audiences laugh in "Hateship Loveship," a family drama in which the Oscar-nominated "Bridesmaids" writer and star takes on what may be her most understated and, well, quietest role yet.
Wiig is almost unrecognizable in the role of Johanna Parry, a meek and unassuming woman who works as a nanny. Her latest assignment takes her to the home of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte, who also looks to be underplaying here), an elderly man who needs help taking care of his granddaughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld, looking all grown up from 2010's "True Grit") — the daughter of his ne'er-do-well son-in-law, Ken (Guy Pearce), who appears to have a bit of a substance abuse problem.
An innocent letter from Johanna to Ken inspires Sabitha and her pal Edith (Sami Gayle) to turn their correspondence into a staged courtship, and soon the mousy nanny is being wooed by the troubled drug addict — even though his letters are being written by the conspiring teenage girls. What starts off as a cruel prank ends up being the spark that puts Johanna on a brand new life journey, one that might inspire doing more than just quietly and shyly going about an unremarkable existence.
The trailer for "Hateship Loveship," which is based on Alice Munro's 2001 short story "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," showcases what looks like a perhaps sincere-to-a-fault drama, though the excellent cast — and the restrained way in which they play out this contemporary fable — makes it seem like a more satisfying A-list ensemble work than, say, the rowdy, bloated and completely unbelievable "August: Osage County." It's especially nice to see Nolte in a rather calm state, and Pearce continues to seem completely at home with any possible character.
However, the most intriguing performance looks to be Kristen Wiig's. You'd think she'd be on to her sixth or seventh blockbuster comedy since the runaway success of "Bridesmaids" (2011), but she's been keeping us on our toes by choosing rather diverse projects since her big-screen breakthrough. She's mostly stuck with comedy, recently appearing this past holiday season in "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "Her" (she was the voice of "SexyKitten" in the film's most outrageously funny scene), but it's been different levels of comedy, spiced with more emotional turns in smaller films like "Friends With Kids" (2011) and "Girl Most Likely" (2013).
Wiig's interesting career continues with what looks to be a completely dramatic role in "Hateship Loveship." The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and will hit U.S. theaters on April 11.