Second Life is For Saps

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P.S. I Love You
Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) are a young New York couple whose marriage is plagued by bickering about finding a better apartment, when to have children and how to advance their careers. That’s P.S. I Love You’s opening sequence, replete with a fabulous tracking shot. Then comes a montage of New York locations as background to the film’s titles—during which Gerry, off-screen, dies of a brain tumor. Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of the Cecelia Ahern novel is a two hour-plus sentimental journey through the sorrows of young widowhood.

Post titles, the film resumes at Gerry’s wake, held at Holly’s mom’s pub. Bereft, grief-stricken, guilt-ridden and barely able to hold up, Holly locks herself away in the five-story walk-up she’d scorned, and fantasizes about Gerry’s presence.

Three weeks later, her mom (Kathy Bates), sister and friends burst in with balloons to celebrate Holly’s 30th birthday. A cake arrives, along with a letter, from the deceased Gerry who has, with love-guided wisdom, pre-planned his widow’s recovery: He’ll serially deliver gifts and letters to reintroduce Holly to her stronger self, the creative and quirky person with whom he fell in love.

Following Gerry’s instructions, Holly and her two best girl friends go out drinking in a karaoke club, shop for clothing and for men, and take a trip to the Old Sod. Gerry’s Irish, and his prescribed healing for Holly includes a visit to gorgeously green County Wicklow, where the couple met each other and where Holly now reconnects with Gerry’s parents and with his childhood best mate, Billy, who both reminds Holly of Gerry and, ultimately, helps her to forget him.

The plot occasionally twists into quirky situations that are bolstered by smartly entertaining dialog, and there are a number of unexpectedly engaging and amusing embellishments—like the motif of Holly’s husband-seeking friend’s (Lisa Kudrow) intermittent interviewing of attractive bachelors. As writer and director, LaGravenese carefully sets up those clever bits, and they pay off with laughs that come as welcome relief from the movie’s preponderance of mopey moments. And, the denouement (no spoilers here) for the Kathy Bates character is a delightful surprise.

Otherwise, the film’s superficial “life goes on” message is quite formulaic, and the inevitable conclusion doesn’t stir many new insights: In order to be overcome it, grief must first be felt. Swank, who worked with LaGravenese earlier this year in Freedom Writers, cannot be credited with much emotional depth in her performance as Holly. Yes, she cries, she laughs, she gets wasted, she’s unkempt and tousled. But she doesn’t seem to feel much—not even the numbness of grief. This makes the film little more than a cryfest for those looking to release their own emotions, rather than experience anything new.

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