PS: I Love You (2007) dir. Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Hillary Swank, Lisa Kudrow, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr., Jeffrey Dean Morgan
“P.S. I Love You” is one of those impossibly romantic films, about a romance that continues beyond death. Richard LaGravenese, a good writer, but still looking for his first directorial hit, misses the mark again. After a clever hook is established the concept never pays off, instead LaGravanese unnecessarily dances around our expectations ultimately petering the film out over the final two acts.
The short synopsis goes like this: Holly Kennedy (Hillary Swank) and her husband Gerry (Gerard Butler) are a bickering New York couple who fear the financial burdon of the future. When Gerry dies suddenly from a brain tumour, Holly quickly regrets not having enough joy-time in their brief relationship. Months later on Holly’s birthday, a present arrives from the deceased Gerry, who planned an elaborate birthday present/scavenger hunt before his death. A series of letters have been mailed to her in various places which takes her on a journey of self-discovery, catharsis and ultimately true undying love.
After establishing the central hook, Gerry’s port-mortum treasure hunt, the film should have basically written itself. There’s a very predictable trajectory which LaGravenese could have taken, or the “National Treasure” route - having Holly find and follow clues planted by Gerry to help her cherish their relationship further and help Holly move on to the next stage in life. Perhaps this was LaGravenese’s intention, but it feels obscured, when a clear simple follow through on those expectations would have served the story better. The film takes several unwise detours, most dramatically when Holly discovers her inner 'fashion designer' and starts a career designing shoes. This comes out of left field and takes us off the simplified treasure hunt journey.
As traditional in the romantic comedy genre LaGravenese gives us two possible romances for Holly to follow. Unfortunately both candidates – Connick Jr and Dean Morgan – are dull as dishwater, and fail to create any sparks. Connick Jr. follows around Holly like a puppy dog desperately wanting some attention and thus a relationship. But knowing she is a widow of his former boss, he comes off as creepy. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was cast because of his romantic idol stature from “Grey’s Anatomy” never surfaces to be a credible romantic lead. He seems to be spending too much time getting the Irish accent down than actually acting, being charming and developing his character. Ultimately he’s just dipples with legs.
For the males, Gerard Butler is the only movie star in the film and performs well as the dashing and naively flawed husband. But the film tries to have its cake and eat it too – which is a fundamental flaw of the film. Despite being dead, Gerry (and thus Gerard) continues to be present in the film via the numerous and lengthy flashbacks. In order to give the audience the feeling of despair of losing one’s husband, we shouldn’t see Gerry (and thus Gerard) again. One of the best scenes in the film is when Holly listens to Gerry’s brief voicemail recording over and over just to hear his soothing voice. And so, the emotion of the moment when we hear his voice again on the dictaphone is lost because we’ve continued to see and hear Gerry through her dreams and flashbacks. The smart play would have been to kill Gerry off, and never see him again. But of course Butler is a big star now and needs screen time.
What's frustrating is that “P.S. I Love You” could have been an easy fix in the editing room. Here’s my rough cut notes: take out all the Gerard Butler flashbacks; make Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character into a closeted shithead who proves to be the wrong guy for Holly; and find the good performance from Connick Jr, which is probably in there somewhere, thus making his character the next best man for her and give us a satisfying romantic ending.
"P.S. I Love You" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Bros Home Entertainment