In the late 1990’s and most likely to compete with Gap’s aggressively cool “jump, jive, an’ wail” and “Kerouac wore khakis,” advertising campaign, Dockers launched their own line of commercials which featured handsome men on subways and street corners catching the eyes of flirtatious female passersby who replaced the tired wolf whistle with the sexy, succinct line, “Nice pants.” As my favorite creative writing professor jokingly told us, “If a woman told me I had nice pants, I would MARRY her.” Now admittedly, unlike my professor who was on—I believe-- wife number four at the time, I’m not one for marriage. However—and no pun intended-- if pressed, my “nice pants” weakness would be men who write letters. Sketches are flattering and songs entertain but creative men who pour their hearts out on paper with wit, passion, and ease are few and far between. Indeed, unfortunately, it seems as though they only exist in syrupy tearjerker novels, movies about death, or in foreign countries. In the latest outing from director Richard LaGravenese, he confirms this suspicion by mixing up a cocktail of all three as we have a film adaptation of Cecilia Ahern’s novel about death in which our male letter writer hails from Ireland.
Inaccurately billed, advertised and even critiqued as a traditional romantic comedy which raised enough eyebrows when one realized that Hilary Swank-- Oscar’s queen of doom and gloom-- was starring in something funny, P.S. I Love You crashed and burned at the box office, with audiences preferring to see Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s awkwardly characterized “feel-good” movie about death, The Bucket List. Think of this film as The Bucket List in reverse as it opens with Holly (Hilary Swank in as my dad described “Jennifer Garner mode”) and Gerry Kennedy (dishy Gerard Butler) returning home from a disastrous evening as they wait until they get to their apartment to argue to avoid making a scene.
Unfortunately, while the Kennedy’s neighbors are spared the scene, we watch the loud, chaotic confrontation escalate as the two begin with one issue, and predictably although authentically, proceed to use that as a springboard to attack each and every problem existing in their marriage. Faster than you can say, “show us, don’t tell us,” in a scene perhaps best suited for the stage as exposition literally comes spewing from the mouths of our talented leads making them grate on our nerves fairly quickly, we learn moments later that Gerry has died from a tragic illness, leaving his young, devoted wife reeling.
Cutting herself off from the world, Holly proceeds to grieve in her own way, avoiding hygiene and cleanliness, ignoring work, and instead sublimating her loss in fantasy as she imagines still speaking, holding and sleeping with Gerry as well as watching every woman’s weepie classic one can imagine starring Bette Davis and Judy Garland on her bedroom television. Things change on her thirtieth birthday, when Holly's mother Patricia (Kathy Bates) and two best friends (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon) stage an intervention that nearly fails until a surprise letter arrives from the deceased Gerry who reveals that he has left Holly ten messages which will appear in mysterious ways over the course of one year.
Signing each letter with—you guessed it-- “P.S. I Love You,” Holly begins to come out of both her apartment and shell as Gerry's assignments challenge her to take part in everything from karaoke to a trip to Ireland where she meets Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Billy Gallagher, another sensitive and gorgeous lad who-- wouldn’t you know?-- was one of Gerry’s old mates.
Meanwhile, in New York, Harry Connick Jr.’s bartending Daniel hopes to become more to Holly than just a friendly shoulder to cry on, as Holly realizes that as much as she wants to move on, it’s hard to let go, especially when Gerry keeps reminding her of their love with each successive letter.
While Swank’s character never feels entirely authentic and too much back-story is crammed in awkwardly throughout the narrative, despite its contrivances and predictable plot points, P.S. I Love You isn’t quite the disaster that one would have expected going in. However with obvious parallels to The Notebook and Ghost, it’s important to note to prospective renters hoping for a romantic comedy that the film is much sadder and far more devastating than the lighthearted trailers would have one believe, which tests the patience of viewers considering its overly long running time of 126 minutes.
In addition and quite surprisingly for a chick flick that was originally penned in novel form by a woman, I was amazed by the fact that the most fascinating and rewarding characters in Love weren't predictably Holly or her friends but rather the men in their lives including Gerry, Billy and Daniel. But then again, it's easy to forgive the author's understandable indulgence; as I said before, men like these only exist in the movies… or maybe just in Ireland.