‘Hateship Loveship’ starring Kristen Wiig: movie review

There’s often an element of surprise when actors best known for comedy take on dramatic material, probably due to the widespread misconception that there is a substantial difference between the two.

Acting is acting, and if you’re good at one type of material you can handle the other.

Kristen Wiig does a fine job at the center of “Hateship Loveship,” a somber feature-length adaptation of an Alice Munro short story about a nanny (Wiig) who falls in love with the deadbeat father (Guy Pearce) of her charge (Hailee Steinfeld).

But the movie is downright somnambulistic, its pulse slowed to a barely-there tick. Wiig’s character, Johanna, is so underdeveloped, so taciturn, that she practically evaporates. The star compensates by playing on the power of suggestion, filling the silences with the emotions left out of the spare script.

The unhurried rhythms are often a boon, keeping the movie rooted in an observational mode that avoids clichés. The film embraces its small-scale structure, developing through an emphasis on minute discrepancies in the ways Johanna scrubs a floor, or cares for Pearce’s Ken. The depiction of their love is more complicated and realistic than you’d find in a typical romance. If only the characters were more interesting.