P.S. I Love You

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

gerard_butler7.jpg Hillary Swank does not have the chin for romance or the rhythm for comedy. Her two Oscars were for earnest, androgynous roles (“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby”) that made the most of her strong jaw and lanky figure. Romantic comedies, even bittersweet ones about perky young widows learning to go on with their lives, need twinkle. Her character wears twinkly dresses and does twinkly things, but Swank delivers her lines as though she is still slamming into that heavy bag.

Swank plays Holly, wife of Gerry (“300”’s Gerard Butler), an open-hearted, free-spirited, utterly devoted Irish musician. Holly is a little high maintenance and feels she has to do all the planning and worrying for both of them. But he understands and loves her devotedly in a dream of chick-lit perfection so complete it is clear he will have to exit the movie before the end of the first reel. We know this because he is willing to perform the gallant “I know something is wrong/just tell me/please forgive me” apology that in real life seems incompatible with the Y chromosome. And he not only dances in his underwear and suspenders to charm her but manages to make it actually quite charming.
There are about ten minutes of this too-good-to-last faux-dorableness. Then we cut to Gerry’s wake at the bar owned by Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates), who has conveniently hired a cute bartender with an impulse control problem (Harry Connick, Jr.).
Holly and Gerry had no money but this is a movie, so she has a “Sex and the City”-worthy shoe collection (from eBay!) and a spacious New York apartment to mourn in. She hides out at home, smelling his clothes and watching old movies. And then she receives the first letter, signed, yes, “P.S. I love you.” Gerry the non-planner had time before he died to come up with a series of letters designed to help Holly move on, while of course reminding her of how charming and devoted he was.
Somehow, that money problem has disappeared, because after he has her empty some emotional and literal closets, Gerry’s letters direct Holly to return to Ireland with her gal pals (the underused Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon). These BFFs have almost no personalities but they do represent places on the romantic spectrum aligned to provide maximum narrative symmetry. In Ireland, Holly has a series of scenic, tender, and life-affirming encounters interspersed with flashbacks of her early days with Gerry.
The movie is based on an international best-seller written by then-21-year-old Cecelia Ahern, daughter of Ireland’s Prime Minister, whose latest project is television’s “Samantha Who?” Ahern knows how to create an appealing set-up and the Ireland scenes are so pretty they will sell a few tickets to tourists. She deserves credit for an ending that takes a bit of a risk. But Holly is not nearly as endearing a character as she is intended to be. An impetuous sexual encounter intended to be empowering, comes across as creepy, especially after he turns out to have an unexpected (only for Holly) connection. Even her connection to Gerry seems immature and self-absorbed. Swank’s chilly performance at the heart of the movie makes it hard for us to relate to Holly’s struggle or her relationships.
Parents should know that this movie has a very sad (off-screen) death, sexual references and situations including gay club, hookers, sex with a stranger portrayed as empowering, some strong language, brief nudity, smoking reference, and a lot of drinking
Families who see this movie should talk about what they would put in letters to family members, and what they would want letters like that to include. Which of Gerry’s letters was the most important?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy You’ve Got Mail and Runaway Bride.

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Based on a book Drama Genre , Themes, and Features Reviews Romance

10 Replies to “P.S. I Love You”

  1. I completely agree with you on everything in your review, save for Hilary Swank. I think she is one of the finest actresses to begin with, but I felt she proved that she could be good in the more comedic moments. I’m glad she didn’t make her performance too cutesy and smiley and over-the-top, as a lot of romantic leads sometimes do. She seemed realer than that, even if, alas, the film she found herself in was not.

  2. i really liked this movie, but i think ur being a little unfair about the sex w/ strangers, gerry’s frinend isnt a stranger. next time, be more fair.

  3. Thanks for posting, Hannah! Holly had sex with someone she had just met, about whom she knew almost nothing except that he was a musician and Irish. So, that meets my definition of a stranger. The fact that she found out the next day that he knew her late husband did not mean that they knew each other. So, I’d be interested to hear why you think he was not a stranger.

  4. I thought this film was touching, poignant and it touched on so many nuances that most people can relate to. It also had some excellent dialogue, and was extremely funny. I loved the relationships between the characters, and that Holly was able to be independent and heal-it didn’t have a quick snappy fix for her, nor did it end in a sad way. I absolutely loved this movie, and was astonished at how much it impacted me.

  5. Thanks for writing, Patricia. I am always glad when someone sees more in a movie than I do and your comments illuminated the movie’s greatest strengths. I agree with you about the ending and about the dialogue, and I think Ahern achieved a great deal for such a young woman and look forward to whatever she does next.

  6. I listen to your reviews on KOST-FM, but missed this one and just decided to look it up. I’ve seen this film 7 times now (going for 8 tomorrow) so (obviously) I love it. I’ve also taken others with me each time and all of them have loved it too, and friends who have gone because I recommended it loved it. I remain baffled by the drubbing it received from critics and how many feel Hilary Swank was ill-cast as Holly. I think Hilary has amazing comedic timing and the fact that I find myself still laughing heartily each time I see it, even after so many viewings, is a testament to her abilities (in my eyes). I was very touched by her portrayal of the widow left so bereft she can no longer function let alone plan after her oh-so-charming husband has died, yet the sad moments are tempered by great comedy. I agree there are moral situations that make this not a great choice as family fare but the majority of the audiences I’ve seen have been adults, with the youngest appearing to be in their late teens, which seems about right to me.

  7. Thanks for writing (and for listening), Susan! As I said above to Patricia, I am always glad when someone sees more in a movie than I do. All critics can do is express our own response to a movie in a way that is, we hope, interesting to read and descriptive enough so that you can decide whether the movie is right for you. There have been plenty of movies where my view was different from critics, audiences, or both (and I often remain convinced that the world will come around to my way of thinking eventually). I appreciate your appreciation of this film and am grateful to you for sharing it with me.

  8. I’ve noticed that you made a minor mistake in the 3rd last paragraph.
    ‘this movie Very sad (off-screen) death’
    Isn’t it supposed to be ‘this movie has a very sad (off-screen) death’ instead?
    Also, I have the book from which this movie is based. It seems that the movie has nothing in common with the book, other than the characters and the plot. Have you read the book, Movie Mom? If you have, do you prefer the book or the movie?

  9. Casey, by my count you only have three more mistakes to go before you get a free copy of my book! Keep it up! I have not read the “PS I Love You” book but books and movies are two very different art forms. The best movie adaptations of books often make very big changes to make the story more visual and dramatic.

  10. Thanks for counting my corrections, Movie Mom. I don’t really remember how mistakes I’ve spotted, as my intention is to correct the errors in your reviews as to prevent possible confusion for other readers of your reviews. But thanks anyway!

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