Good effort by the screenwriter, Mark Poirier and director Liza Johnson's interpretation of Alice Munro's short story, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, but no cigar.
If anything, this movie is proof that not all short stories are meant to be turned into meaningful films. Other short stories, such as Annie Proulx's, Brokeback Mountain translate into much deeper films just because of the subject matter. It's not even fair to compare these authors and their very different styles and stories, but there you have it. If you're trying to put your finger on the pulse of filmmaking vs. literature, this is it.
It all comes down to the premise of the story. Brokeback Mountain was truly so much more than a gay love affair between men. It was a study in human sexuality. Bisexuality to be exact, and a good exploration at that. That's deep stuff. By contrast, Munro's story about an adolescent prank gone "right", in Hateship Loveship, well not so much.
Having said that, I think the director's work was good but not good enough. Not deep enough. The actors in Hateship, all played wonderfully, it just seemed this movie didn't have the tension it needed to make me really give a damn. Again, this is not a reflection on any of the players or even the screenwriter for that matter. If a director is working with a bland story to begin with, I think it's his or her responsibility to infuse tension where the written story (Munro's short story) may not show it. Easy for me to say. I'm not the one taking apart Munro's story. But let's be clear. Literature and its subtleties is one thing and artistic license (creativity) in filmmaking is another.
Not all films are so true to the stories they interpret and for good reason. Filmmakers should never rely or trust novelists or writers of any sort. Literature is one art form and film is another. Case closed. One art form does not owe the other anything. Just ask Quentin Tarantino. Novelist, Elmore Leonard didn't bitch at him when the filmmaker changed the title of his book (Rum Punch) to Jackie Brown for his film. The author understood the marketing behind it.
This movie, Hateship, had an odd feeling about it. All the bells and whistles were firmly in place but I was never really moved by it. Maybe a few chuckles, here and there, like when Johanna french kisses the mirror, but I didn't feel anything for Johanna or any other character beyond that scene. The only palpable tension was between the teenage girls, but they're part of the sub-plot, so that doesn't count.
The main tension belongs between Johanna and Ken and the best time to show that was when Johanna showed up at Ken's door unannounced and uninvited, but nothing happened. Well, yes, a bit of discord for about a second and then Ken convinced Johanna to stay despite the misunderstanding. Where's the tension in that?
Note to storytellers: Tension is the lifeblood of any story. The only time tension is relieved is at the end of the story, not during. No tension, no conflict, no story. Conflict builds tension, and that's where your story lives and breathes. Write it down folks. This is nothing new but storytellers must remember to build tension in every scene until the end of the story.
Ken should've kicked Johanna out before Johanna realized he didn't email her those love letters. That's not only tension, that's raising the stakes. But instead, they make love. Wrong move, and if that's how Munro's story reads, change it and make your movie better.Who cares? It's your movie and your reputation on the line, not Munro's.
The Box Office speaks for itself, folks. This movie lost money all the way and serves as nothing more than a calling card for newcomer Wiig and the other fine actors, Nolte notwithstanding. He got last billing. Lest we forget his moving role as football coach in Prince of Tides, or his defiant role as a prosecutor in Cape Fear. Here, Nolte is almost irrelevant but looks good in his role as an over-protective grandfather, and engaging nonetheless.
So here it is folks. The takeaway from the ending of Hateship Loveship, is not so dramatic, not very moving at all. That's a shame because I really wanted to love this movie, but in the end, all I could do was appreciate its production values and its players. The story...well, the jury still out on that, but the takeaway for filmmakers is clear.
Either faithfully adapt a story that already moves audiences, or tweak screenplays so they tug at our emotions at a deeper level. Audiences want to see movies that move and inspire them. Themes must resonate at the end of a film or the movie dies and no one will care.
Life is a Bitchship. A Hardship. Deal with it folks. Deal with it.