Righto, it’s Kristen Wiig everybody, so sit right down and bring your laughing gear, because this is bound to be a hoot a minute.
Well, no. Just hold your horses a moment. Don’t be expecting so much as a chuckle. This is far from funny.
Still, it’s not supposed to be, so this is a good thing. Wigg and Guy Pearce take on the main roles in an often sweet and always charismatic tale of an introverted woman who may just have given up hope of finding happiness until a cruel joke at her expense ends up having unexpected benefits.
Life is pretty dull for Johanna (Wiig) as the films begins. We are introduced to this ‘carer’ as she tends to a frail and dying old woman. She has little to say for herself and her life appears to be completely focused on the caring aspect and this appears to leave little time for herself. She is good at her job, concientious and organised, seemingly at the cost of her own self-interest, which appears to have a taken a back seat for who knows how long.
When this old woman dies in her sleep, Johanna gains a new position at the home of Mr McCauley (Nolte) that has hired her to look after his grand-daughter (Steinfeld). The reasons that she lives with her grandfather will form the greater part of the backstory of this tale, and it will unfold mostly over the course of the first two acts of the film, albeit slowly and not in its entirety.
One of the strangest decisions of the story was to focus on Johanna as the main character but give her no history for the audience to dwell on. The story of the family she has come to care for and, in time, love, is documented well enough here to beg the question as to why her life beforehand is so devoid of detail.
Wiig plays Johanna, we can be sure, as directed. There are opportunities for a snatched glance here and there where a wry giggle would actually have worked, but they are mostly glossed over, in favour of keeping Johanna as one-dimensional as possible. All of her convictions go unspoken, which makes the audience fill in their own blanks, but this canvas, being untouched, allows the viewer to imagine a character that will ultimately prove flawed due to having no control over her decisions and the story that unfolds in front of the viewer without permission. Guy Pearce’s Ken is much more open and predictably transparent, filling the estranged father with problems all of his own, in need of just the kind of care and attention the Johanna is only too willing, or even made, to provide.
Defying convention in a third act that is just waiting for something unexpected to arrive is refreshing, surprising and welcome and we can thank Johnson (Direction) and Poirier (Screenplay) for this. Johnson’s direction is lovely throughout, with some well executed decisions that are mostly familiar, but on occasion, there is a shot or two out of a contemporary left-field, which worked excellently. Poirier’s script is sophisticated and real enough to give you confidence in the words coming out of the characters mouths, even if sometimes, in the case of Johanna, you have no idea what she will say next.
An accomplished piece of work that doesn’t rush, demands patience and delivers a very satisfying denoument. It falters at times, with a topsy-turvy unwieldly narrative that may throw some off the scent briefly, but overall, excellent stuff. Lovely to see Wiig playing it straight. It’s something she should do more of, as she clearly excels at it. More than one string to her bow after all, it seems.