A lot of the buzz generated by “Hateship Loveship” surrounds Kristen Wiig’s performance. People are freaking out because it’s her first dramatic role, with the implication being “and she doesn’t screw it up!”
That’s unfair on a couple of levels. First, the movie as a whole is great. Second, every performance in the movie is good — the supporting cast has earned five acting Oscar nominations (three for Nick Nolte and one each for Hailee Steinfeld and Christine Lahti, who actually won an Oscar for best short film in 1996. Isn’t that weird?), not to mention that Guy Pearce and Jennifer Jason Leigh aren’t exactly schlubs when it comes to the craft. Even relative newcomer Sami Gayle, whose last feature role was “refugee daughter” in “Noah,” turns in a creepily cold performance as a cruel teenage queen bee. Talking only about Wiig does a disservice to the work the others do.
Last, it’s dialogue that’s unfair to Kristen Wiig. Obviously she’s known for comedic roles. The idea that comedy is all she can do because that’s what she’s always done is reductive and, frankly, wrong. If you needed proof that Wiig can do a dramatic turn, you didn’t really pay attention to “Bridesmaids.” Remember when she was alone in her kitchen and made herself a fancy cupcake? It’s a silent scene in which Wiig breaks your heart without even speaking.
Moreover, comedy done well — and Wiig does comedy very well — looks so easy. And it is so, so hard. Not only because it takes a combination of an immense amount of work and the good luck to be born funny, but also because at the heart of every great comedic bit is an undercurrent of drama; a man slipping on a banana peel is funny precisely because, in part, that guy could really get hurt.
“Hateship Loveship” is so much more than Kristen Wiig not being funny. True, it’s a chance for Wiig to show her versatility, but her versatility shouldn’t come as a surprise. She’s been showing it all along — it’s just that a lot of people weren’t looking.