'P.S. I Love You' is a pleasant surprise

Category: P.S. I Love You Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: December 21, 2007 | Publication: The Vancouver Sun | Author: Jay Stone
Publication/Article Link:http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/arts/story.html?id=3daedfad-13c7-409a-99e2-1f4d198c530f&p=2

One goes into a movie like P.S. I Love You with a certain amount of dread, and who can blame one? First of all, there is that title, which pretty well says 1. Leave the man at home and 2. Bring hankies. It also hints at 2b: You can check your judgment at the door as well, if you need room for more hankies.

Then there is the plot, culled from several viewings of the trailer: a man dies and leaves his widow a bunch of letters that will help guide her through her grief. There are indications that there will be redemption at the end, and possibly forgiveness as well. There seems to be an awful lot of music involved.

And just to get all the bad stuff out of the way at once, the widow, named Holly (played with toothy sincerity by Hilary Swank) also sees visions of her dead husband (the roguish Gerard Butler, nicely recovered from defending Athens in 300). At times his spirit cuddles her in bed and at others, he sings his roguish Irish songs in their picturesquely worn-out apartment in New York City or in picturesquely boozy pubs in Ireland.

And as one has gathered, the letters he sends her -- admonitions to attend a karaoke night, or return to the spot in Ireland where they first met -- all end with the same P.S., which is very sweet, I'm sure, but in the wrong hands could easily bring on a bad case of the tear-jerks.

The happy news is that P.S. I Love You is only partly that movie. It's also an offbeat romantic drama in which the grieving widow finds most of her solace not in the various men who stand like pillars of Hollywood salvation along her difficult road, but in her love of shoes. This sounds about right, and it's bracing to see a film acknowledge it.

And while Swank and Butler don't have much in the way of romantic chemistry -- partly due to the fact that he's dead and all -- it's a pleasure to welcome aboard Holly's girlfriends, characters who, like Cinderella's mice, are there to shepherd her through the hard times. They are played by Gina Gershon, who's aboard mostly for ballast, and Lisa Kudrow, who brings to the picture a brand of ditzy crankiness that we've been missing in our cultural life since Friends went off the air. Kudrow doesn't show much range, but within that small window of character -- ditz and cranky -- she's a Zen mistress.

Another eye-opener is Daniel, the hunk positioned to capture Holly once she recovers from loving a dead man. He is played by Harry Connick Jr., looking slightly looped, double-chinned and possibly a little sociopathic. Daniel is a man with no filter, who can't pick up on social clues and is therefore too quirky for the role, which suits one just fine. Sample conversation between Daniel and Holly:

"How did he die?''
"Brain tumour."

This all takes some careful doing, and P.S. I Love You gets it, at least most of the time, from director Richard LaGravenese, who took Swank through the far less experimental drama Freedom Writers. The challenge faced by LaGravenese -- who also co-wrote the script, which is based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern -- is one of tone, and he manages to keep the film upright and moving forward without relying too much on speeches in which people aren't quite ready to say goodbye, or who rail at a silent God for life's unfairness.

The result is that P.S. I Love You qualifies as a pleasant surprise, a movie that is sad but doesn't get all morose about it. It may require some hankies among those members of the audience determined to cry, but they're not essential. You can even bring along your critical faculties. The man, as always, is optional.