Funny, sexy, and high on emotion, P.S. I Love You is a film that just might be winsome enough to coast by on charm alone—that is, assuming you're in the film's target audience (the rom-com/Lifetime set), you don't expect it to adhere too rigidly to the Cecilia Ahem novel on which it's based (it doesn't), and you don't spend too much time actually thinking about it (you really shouldn't).
It's a tear-jerker from start to finish, and the first act is pretty good. It opens with Holly (Hilary Swank, slumping after two Oscar wins) and Gerry (Gerard Butler, a remarkably confident leading man)—married for nine years, still living in a crummy New York apartment—fighting, which inevitably turns to flirting, which inevitably ends in lovemaking. It's tender and true to life, and Butler is surprisingly funny; director Richard LaGravenese is smart to open with it, because it makes audience members genuinely care about the characters right from the beginning—because we know them and see their love for each other, not because they're young and attractive and they're in a romantic movie and we're just supposed to.
After this prologue and the opening credits, though, tragedy strikes—first for Holly and Gerry, but soon, for the movie itself. When Gerry dies of a brain tumor, Holly is left to grieve, shutting herself in her apartment for a week with delivery food and old movies. Her family comes by in an attempt to lure her out of the house to celebrate her thirtieth birthday, but it's Gerry himself—communicating from beyond the grave, as it were—who shakes her out of her seclusion. Delivered to Holly's apartment is a letter Gerry wrote before he died, promising to help her through her time of mourning with a series of additional letters to follow. He will ask her, he writes, to do things she might not want to do, but he begs her to trust him and do them anyway.
Thus, what starts as a smart relationship movie for grownups becomes something akin to Ghost meets The Notebook. The dynamic of a dead Gerry still communicating with his wife isn't quite supernatural, but it does give the movie a feel of having one foot in this world and the other in the next, while also giving the movie ample opportunity for grandiose, melodramatic moments in which Holly has some sort of epiphany, or is jolted into a flashback of her blissful time with Gerry, or learns an important lesson about the need to continue living her life even with her husband gone.
And all this would be well and good if LaGravenese brought to this film the same brilliance he brought to his screenplay for The Fisher King, or even if he was as focused here as he was on Freedom Writers—which, incidentally, also starred Swank. Alas, the movie is so bent on conjuring big, sweeping emotions that it becomes a bit scattershot, starting down way too many tear-jerking roads but never going down any of them far enough to discover any real substance.
So we follow Holly as she follows the directions given her by Gerry, as supporting characters and tangential plots come and go—she dances around a flirtatious relationship with a family friend, Daniel (Harry Connick, Jr.); she argues and reconciles with her mother (Kathy Bates); she watches her best friend (Lisa Kudrow) struggling to find the perfect man; and struggles with her own flighty friendship. She even takes a trip to Ireland, where she sleeps with a mysterious local man who—shockingly!—seems an awful lot like her late husband. Most of these subplots appear here in a different form than they do in the source novel, doctored to make them more dramatic, and indeed, the film is nothing if not emotional; while LaGravenese can't seem to figure out which lesson Holly should be learning—or what we're supposed to make of it all—he seems resolved to play the audience like a fiddle. The problem is, the fiddler never seems particularly sure of what song he's trying to play.
There's something to be said for style, of course; there's something inspiring about excellent craft, and, for the first act, LaGravenese seems to have it in spades. After that, he tries anything and everything to make moviegoers well up with tears, and, in doing so, he loses his focus, and, thus, his hold on truly substantive storytelling. The film fails, then, as an exploration of loss and mourning, or even as a coherent drama, but, for those willing to accept it as a sort of glorified melodrama and ignore all the loose ends, it might still make for an entertaining and therapeutic trip to the movies.Discussion starters
- What are some of the views about mourning and coping with loss that the film offers? Which do you think is the best/most effective?
- Patricia is critical of Gerry's plan from the beginning. Do you think her concerns are justified?
- Do you think there are any of Gerry's directions that Holly shouldn't have followed? What, if any, mistakes do you think she makes?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
P.S. I Love You is rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity. There are numerous suggestive and explicitly sexual comments made throughout the film—some within the context of a marriage, but most of them not. The nudity comes when a man's bare backside is briefly seen as he steps out of the shower. There are also a few instances of foul language, including misuses of the Lord's name.
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