P.S. I LOVE YOU (***), last December's romantic dramedy with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, was a much different (and better) film than what people were led to expect based on its trailers. The film was a success at the box office despite a fair share of negative reviews, and I think the reason for its success was due to positive word of mouth after people got a chance to see how much better this film is than many other entries in the genre. Rom-coms are a lot like action movies; you basically know what to expect at every turn but occasionally, the filmmakers up the ante a bit, and create something a little out of the ordinary when put up against the other 20 entries that year in the genre. And I almost hesitate to call P.S. I LOVE YOU a "romantic-comedy," though at times, it is romantic, and it is funny; the film is more about the grieving process and how one woman overcomes serious issues of loss and heartache with the help of her dead husband. And before you think, wait, I've seen this movie before (GHOST), there are no ghostly apparitions of any kind in this slightly flawed but nonetheless enjoyable excursion into the human heart.
Swank is Holly, a cute NYC chick with job-security issues and a playful Irish husband named Gerry (Gerard Butler, last seen cutting down evil Persians in 300). In the startling opening moments, the audience is introduced to these two characters mid-fight; it's rare that a frothy movie like this would open with such an abrasive beginning. But that was the first clue to me that the film might be better than I was expecting. After the fight and obligatory make-up-sex, we cut forward in time, to Gerry's funeral (!). It seems that off screen, Gerry developed a brain tumor, and passed away. Holly is lost; Gerry was her everything -- her first real boyfriend, the first (and only) man she slept with, and most importantly, her best friend. Her mother (Kathy Bates) and her closest friends (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon) urge her to get out and meet new people in an effort to move on. But she's not ready to move on, which is something that Gerry must've sensed before he expired. In an effort to help heal her pain, Gerry has arranged for different letters to show up for Holly, in various ways, with each one giving her something to go out and do or accomplish. True, it's a vigorously contrived way of setting up the film's plot dynamics, and some of the coincidences are far-fetched, but I bought into it. Soon enough, Holly is off to Ireland with her gal pals, hanging out with a local hunk (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan with a weak Irish accent), and getting a chance to relive her relationship with Gerry all over again. Harry Connick Jr. is also along for the ride as a bartender-friend of Holly's who secretly wishes he could be more than just her platonic buddy.
The writer/director of P.S. I LOVE YOU is Richard LaGravenese, who has some excellent writing credits under his belt (THE FISHER KING, THE REF, A LITTLE PRINCESS), and was also responsible for directing the underrated LIVING OUT LOUD and the terrific documentary A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. He's a big-money studio guy who typically infuses his work with a serious undercurrent of emotion and poignancy, two elements he brings to P.S. I LOVE YOU by the truck load. Some of the physical comedy is cheesy rather than funny, and again, the contrived nature of the narrative is at times a bit much to accept, but the appealing performances from Swank, Butler, and Connick Jr. carry the picture over the finish line. The film might be a tad too sentimental in spots and its eagerness to pluck the heart-strings is a tad obvious at times, but sometimes a movie like this can win me over and this one did for whatever reason. It doesn't transcend the genre and there aren't any huge surprises to be had. But what a film like P.S. I LOVE YOU has to offer is the reminder that a good-looking Hollywood rom-com (this one was shot by Terry Stacey, a master of the genre, who also shot IN HER SHOES and FRIENDS WITH MONEY) can also be surprisingly heartfelt, honest, and thoughtful.