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MOVIE REVIEW

Better dead than wed

A husband sends his widow letters from beyond the grave in the annoying, implausible 'P.S. I Love You.'

December 21, 2007|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

You could go see "P.S. I Love You," or you could hit yourself on the head with a meat mallet -- it depends on the amount of time and money you want to devote to what amounts to roughly the same experience. The movie, adapted by Richard LaGravenese (who also directs) and Steven Rogers from Irish writer Cecelia Ahern's bestselling novel, stars Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler (King Leonidas from "300") as a couple whose marriage appears to take a turn for the better after the husband dies suddenly of a brain tumor.

At least this is what I gathered from the first sequences of the film, which unlike the book opens not with the heroine grieving over her freshly dead husband but with a shallow, shrill and circuitous marital spat. When we meet Holly (Swank) and Gerry (Butler) Kennedy, they are emerging from a subway station (fans of the book be warned that the action has been transferred from Dublin to New York), with Holly furiously stalking ahead in a silent snit.

Once inside the apartment, she strips down to her bra and lays into him. The purpose of the scene, apparently, is to establish Holly as a miserable -- but skinny -- wretch and Gerry as the studly paragon of jolly Irish patience who puts up with her anyway. They kiss and make up, and the next thing you know, Gerry's in an urn, and Holly's family and friends are slamming drained shot glasses of whiskey on it. Ah, the Irish. So drunk.

The book's main gimmick -- as the title indicates -- is that Gerry leaves a packet of 10 letters for Holly to open at the beginning of each month following his death, which contain words of wisdom, advice, etc. LaGravenese and Rogers have decided to spice up the delivery of the missives by having Gerry set up an elaborate system involving the dry cleaners and other local merchants, but this doesn't make Gerry's letters any more interesting. For a guy writing from beyond the grave, he's unforgivably boring.

As Holly's best friends Denise and Sharon, Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon, respectively, have zero chemistry; in fact, the three women couldn't be more mismatched as friends. The choice of Kudrow and Gershon smacks of casting "names" in the supporting roles rather than actresses displaying any kind of rapport with each other. Also supporting is Kathy Bates as Holly's rather grim mother, still nursing the resentment at being abandoned by Holly's father more than a decade ago, and Harry Connick Jr. as a very unconvincing and unappealing potential love interest.

Holly discovers that Gerry has arranged for her to go on vacation to Ireland with her friends, and their trip provides the occasion for her meeting the substantially more convincing and appealing William (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is clearly better-suited to fill the Gerry-shaped hole in Holly's life. The trip also readies the soil for a sublimely silly flashback -- the Holly and Gerry how-we-met -- which takes us back to a time before Holly was a virago in a trench coat, to when she was a young art student decked out in hippie regalia.

A movie like this requires believable characters in plausible situations, neither of which "P.S. I Love You" provides. Some focus and economy would have gone a long way too. By the time Holly discovers what she really wants to do with her life (she'd been unhappy as a real estate agent), I was more than ready to get on with mine.

carina.chocano@la times.com

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"P.S. I Love You." MPAA rating PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. In wide release.

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