Alice Munro is my hero. My favourite writer and not just because I’m patriotic. I had to begin with that so you know I’m biased about this movie based on a short story by Munro. Also, I adore Guy Pearce. He is Ken in this film, the sad alcoholic love interest of Johanna (played exceptionally well by the talented Kristen Wiig), who is a lonely weirdo herself.
Johanna went off at the age of 15 to work as a housemaid for an old woman and never really got out much. That is the greatest explanation for her social clunkiness. When we meet Johanna at the beginning of the movie, she is in her thirties and goes to work for old Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte as an emotional wrinkled bear, very similar to the grieving wrinkled bear he played in another movie I love, Clean).
Johanna is meant to care for McCauley’s granddaughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld – by now this cast should have piqued your interest), a teenage girl who enjoys typical teenage girl hobbies like day-drinking and sociopathy. Sabitha lives with her grandpa because her dad, Ken, is an addict. Ken is also on probation because he drunk-drove Sabitha’s mom to death. Sad stuff for a Kristen Wiig movie!
So, maybe because she’s sad and possibly because she’s bored, Sabitha teams up with her evil friend Edith (Sami Gayle) to write fake love letters from dreamy-looking Ken to Johanna. This is mean. This is even meaner if I tell you that, according to the story, Johanna is supposed to be much less pretty than Kristen Wiig happens to be. But the prank does not go quite how you would expect. The level of humiliation is wildly uncomfortable, but Johanna is not a pushover. The character reminds me of a friend I knew in university. That girl was so shy, it took me a while to realize she was hard like a war veteran.
The movie is a good demonstration of how shyness does not necessarily mean the same thing as being timid. It is also a good demonstration of how people can be massive losers but also kind of okay. Good intentions do count for something, especially if people act on them at least half the time.
Altogether, a sweet and unexpected story. Like many Alice Munro tales, it’s a bunch of complicated people making fiercely pragmatic compromises. Half of them end up happy. Sort of. (Just like real life).
Oh, and lots of Guy Pearce sex scenes. So. ★★★★