P.S. I Love You (2007) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual references, brief nudity and language
Running time: 126 min.
Cast: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Kathy Bates, Harry Connick Jr., Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, James Marsters, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nellie McKay
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese, Steven Rogers (based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern)
Review published May 12, 2008
Hilary Swank (The Reaping, Freedom Writers) stars as Holly Kennedy, who has a hot/cold relationship with her Irish husband, Gerry (Butler, 300). Unbeknownst to either of them, Holly finds herself widowed after Gerry is discovered to have a brain tumor. Distraught and unable to feel like she can love again, Holly awakens a bit when she begins receiving messages, recorded and written, from Gerry after his death, along with gifts and statements of love that pick her up on her feet again. As the year goes on, Holly can't wait to hear from her beloved deceased husband, who never ceases to surprise her with just the right things at the right time.
P.S. I Love You is based on the 2004 novel by Cecilia Ahern, but in the film world, it is also reminiscent of another film that came out a year before the book's publish date, My Life Without Me, in which a mother with a terminal illness sets about recording messages and leaving birthday gifts for her children to be opened after she passes away. This same year, a Thai film, popularly known internationally as The Letter, is released with an identical plot of a husband dying of a brain tumor who leaves his wife posthumous letters to help her get back on her feet. That 2004's The Letter is actually a remake of a film from South Korea seven years before only goes to show how this is an idea that has been "borrowed" more than a few times by several different sources.
Perhaps it's a coincidence that Ahern's book features a similar story and perhaps not, but even taking the treatment by Richard LaGravenese (Paris I Love You, Living Out Loud) as a wholly original work, the derivative nature of his film hampers its chance to be the truly whimsical, romantic dramedy he intended. The primary fault with LaGravenese's adaptation comes from his inability to see his characters as real people. He'd rather see them as conduits by which he can pull strings in the audience, trying to make us laugh when they stumble or swoon when they're charming.
An unconvincing scene has Holly performing a karaoke on a dare. The scene starts off fine, as Holly is somewhat reserved about performing, and only after a bet, she takes the stage. Even if one assumes that the choice of song for her to perform, Prince's scandalously racy "Gett Off", was part of the bet and not chosen by her, her decision to show plenty of skin, slink around sexily, and stop just short of giving the audience lap dances is all hers, and completely out of character. LaGravenese punctuates this scene by having her trip over cables that mystifyingly appear on stage, and the punch line shot of her in the next scene in a hospital shortly after being treated for busting up her face.
Zany supporting characters also chip in in an attempt to create comic relief, but in the process, the tone of the film is lost. Harry Connick Jr. (Bug, Basic) plays, intentionally, an annoying single guy with the hots for Holly, but he just can't seem to break through romantically with her, probably because he is too honest and talks too much. He's set up as a potential love interest, and while the two characters do ultimately come to terms with feelings, the resulting scene of their consummation is not right for the characters, trying for cuteness points to give the audience a snicker instead of an honest attempt at treating their characters, or us, with respect. Similarly annoying contrasts are given to Holly's best friend, Denise (Kudrow, Marci X), who is so picky when it comes to men, hardly anyone has made it to the second sentence with her, much less a second date. Denise is lonely, and yet, she seems to think her system of weeding out the losers is a winning ticket, all the while ignorant to the fact that she isn't much of a catch herself.
Despite the rather gimmicky plotline, there was a real chance to do something profound with the material that is set up but never delivered on. The film has a an undercurrent theme of taking chances in life to live it to its fullest, and yet, LaGravenese never takes this message to heart when it comes to delivering his story, opting for clever ways to avoid having to be deep or meaningful with the material. Romances with mystique tend to work better when we feel there's something more at play than what we see on the screen. P.S. I Love You shows most of its cards before they are played, and when given half the chance to go for mystical love or celestial yearnings, LaGravenese goes for the cheap laugh or predictable argument instead.
If the filmmakers can't see the characters as people, then neither will we, and a romance without characters we care about isn't a successful one in the slightest. In the realm of letter writing, "p.s." is usually added at the end of a letter to mention something that wasn't stated overtly in the body, Given the fact that honest love isn't something that the body of this film cares to deal with overtly, perhaps the postscript inclusion in the title is warranted.
©2008 Vince Leo