P.S. I Love You (United States, 2007)
If you want an insightful movie about the grieving process, check out Grace Is Gone, which explores how a suddenly single father must cope not only with the loss of his wife but must face telling his daughters that their mother is not coming home. Grace Is Gone is sincere and touching; P.S. I Love You is the cinematic equivalent of a Celine Dion song. Since there are plenty of people who love Dion's sappy, whiny warbling, there will no doubt be a sizable audience that will fall for the treacle dished out by P.S. I Love You. Aside from the inept August Rush, there probably isn't a more clumsily manipulative motion picture out there this holiday season than P.S. I Love You.
This is one of those movies that's a frustrating mix of the good and the bad. There are isolated scenes that work on their own merits. Self-contained, these vignettes show a promise that the project as a whole never comes close to. That's because parts of P.S. I Love You are almost painful to watch, and the movie as a whole drags on for far too long. Director/co-writer Richard LaGravenese wants to say something profound about letting go, but the result plays a lot more like a '00s version of Ghost than a legitimate exploration of how one can say goodbye to a soul-mate.
The film opens with a simple scene of domestic disharmony. Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) are arguing about an offhand comment he made to her mother earlier in the evening. The argument, which has its roots in the kind of everyday quarrels that occur between spouses, soon goes over-the-top (in large part due to the awkwardness of the writing). The scene ends with a touchy-feely moment, the opening credits arrive, and we return to the story several months later - at Gerry's funeral. He died of brain cancer but, before departing, he wrote a series of letters that he intends to be delivered to his wife at key moments during her first year of widowhood. Holly's mother, Elizabeth (Kathy Bates), thinks this is a bad idea since it will provide Holly with the illusion that Gerry is still alive. Indeed, her life is as much lived in the past (via flashbacks) and in a fantasy world (where Gerry is still around) as in the present, real one. She believes that Gerry is still with her, either as a presence or a ghost.
The premise isn't difficult to buy into, but the execution is sloppy and the writing often seems amateurish. The characters are more shells than three-dimensional beings and the movie fails to find a core of emotional honesty. Instead, it's more interested in making sure that as many audience members as possible make use of their tissues. But tears with such a weak underpinning are minimally cathartic. LaGravenese is an accomplished writer and director, with the screenplays of The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer on his resume, but he has missed the mark with this effort.
Thankfully, there are isolated instances when the movie works. Gerry's funeral is an example as are many of the flashbacks used to fill in the tale of his romance with Holly. (Fortunately, we are not subjected to scenes of Gerry dying.) On the other hand, nearly every interaction between Holly and her two best friends (Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon) rings false - especially an embarrassing "fishing expedition" that might have been stolen form a bad sitcom. Holly's friendship (and perhaps a little more) with Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) also feels forced and unnatural, and while this sub-plot is concluded in a fresh manner, it's questionable whether it could be considered satisfying.
On the acting front, Hilary Swank is a major disappointment. It astounds me when an actress of such obvious talent gives a lackluster performance. Swank's Holly is rarely on target or well realized; the thing she does best is to cry. Gerard Butler, showing a different side to those who know him only from 300, nails the impish Gerry perfectly. His success with the part makes Swank's failure all the more obvious. From the supporting ranks, only Kathy Bates stands out. Her Elizabeth and Gerry feel like the only two real people in the entire movie.
I began this review by mentioning Grace Is Gone, and the comparison is entirely reasonable. Both movies want the same thing: to explore how a character overcomes grief and what exists on the other side of that barrier. For a variety of reasons, the less ambitious Grace Is Gone succeeds in touching viewers in deeper places than P.S. I Love You's inadequate fumblings can reach. Grief is a long, painful process that isn't best served by the kind of overwrought melodrama that P.S. I Love You offers, especially when you consider that this is ultimately supposed to be a "feel good" motion picture.
P.S. I Love You (United States, 2007)
Cast: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Harry Connick Jr., Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese and Steven Rogers, based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern
Cinematography: Terry Stacey
Music: John Powell
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers