Mark Reviews Movies


2  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Cast: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, James Marsters, Kathy Bates, Harry Connick Jr., Jeffrey Dean Morgan

MPAA Rating:  (for sexual references and brief nudity)

Running Time: 2:06

Release Date: 12/21/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The problem inherent to the story of P.S. I Love You is that the movie is always bordering on the maudlin. The problem with the structure is that the movie crosses over to it too much. On its primary level, the movie is about a grieving widow, but it's also a romantic comedy. It's not just a romantic comedy based on her friends finding love and her discovering that life might go on with one of two men who enter her life after her husband's untimely death, but it's also, strangely, one that takes the relationship with the already-dead husband and turns it into a flashback-strewn, demented-imagining-heavy (or otherworldly-visitation-sprinkled) romantic comedy as well.

This is where it gets not just maudlin but also occasionally morbid. It starts with an overly happy couple, and in the next scene, they are already separated by death. When the dead husband returns in dreams and flashbacks, it undermines the harsh reality of the central story (here one moment, gone the next) by turning it into a cutesy, weepy stack of romantic interludes. In spite of this major problem, P.S. I Love You isn't bad. The movie's performances and sometimes-unconventional turns in formula are somewhat charming.

The happy couple is Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry Kennedy (Gerard Butler). The movie starts where most relationships end with a fight between the two. This is a good scene on its own. The fight feels fluid, we can sense two passionate people standing their ground, and it's actually about something. Here, Gerry wants a baby, but Holly doesn't think it's the right time in their relationship. They make up, and in the next scene, Holly is attending Gerry's memorial service at her mother Patricia's (Kathy Bates) bar. Her friends Denise (Lisa Kudrow), Sharon (Gina Gershon), Sharon's husband John (James Marsters), and an assortment of other folks, like Patricia's bartender Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.), are in attendance.

This is also a good scene. The priest tells everyone that Gerry would have wanted people to celebrate, not mourn, and to prove it, he puts on Gerry's favorite, bawdy song. Four weeks go by, and Holly has isolated herself from the world in her apartment, calling Gerry's phone to hear his voice on the voice mail, watching old movies, and imaging Gerry with her. Her mother and friends witness some of this when they come over for Holly's 30th birthday party, where she receives a cake and a letter from Gerry.

Before he died, Gerry wrote, he penned a series of letters with challenges and advice to help her move on that Holly will receive over time. At first, the game seems torturous. Gerry makes Holly sing karaoke, which on its own would signal a trial to get out, embarrass herself publicly, and have a little laugh, but there's a backstory to the whole karaoke thing. It's a memory between the two of them. Similarly, he demands she get rid of his stuff (a little spring cleaning helps) but keep his leather jacket, which brings up yet another memory between the two.

When he books her and her friends a trip to his homeland of Ireland (Butler is Scottish, by the by, but who's keeping track?), where she meets an Irish singer/guitarist (and of course gets assaulted with other happy memories with her husband), we can't help but wonder why her friends would insist that going after the Irish singer/guitarist would make her forget her Irish singer/guitarist dead husband. That whole affair gets a little weird when Holly finds out whom the second Irish singer/guitarist is, but that scene gets over its initial creepiness and turns into a sweet one. Even if it is, once again, about her dead husband.

The letter gimmick is simply a way to show the audience a relationship that doesn't really need to be seen in the first place. Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler are inherently likeable in these scenes, which is a great help, but the whole slow, reverse reveal of their relationship feels like a copout. The scenes outside of their relationship are what help hold the thing together. Denise and Sharon's love lives are moving ahead as Holly believes hers has ended. They're the quirky friends, but they don't hold a candle to Daniel. Daniel's response when Holly tells him Gerry died of a brain tumor: "Nice." He says he has no inner censor and blurts out things when they come into his head.

Daniel is the first of the two men that vie for Holly's conventionally obligated need for another man to show she has moved on, and Harry Connick Jr. is quite funny in a role that could be overdone. Holly's mother tries to convince her daughter that the letter game doesn't help (although her repeated insistence seems odd considering what we learn her part in the plan is at the end), and Kathy Bates is also good her, trying to convince Holly that being alone isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The movie is warm, and while the flashbacks are meant to get us weepy, it's not overtly manipulative (i.e., there's no deathbed scene). It is too gushy for its own good and never has the nerve to be about a woman actually dealing with loss.  P.S. I Love You is harmless and has its occasional oddball charms, but it is also ultimately conventional (even if the relationship between Holly and Daniel ends unconventionally) and pandering to go along with them.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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