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PS I Love You

Richard LaGravenese's PS I Love You has it all. Green and beautiful Irish scenery. Prospect Park, also looking good. Pubs in both vicinities. The Lower East Side, looking gritty. A quirky dump of a flat that also manages to be wildly improbable (for example, the pilaster where the heroine's bedside table ought to be). Kathy Bates, slimmer than ever and looking oddly like Shirley MacLaine is she impersonating Shirley MacLaine? Lisa Kudrow being Lisa-Kudrow-funny. Harry Connick being sweet, and slightly double-chinned. Nellie McKay, so brightly imported from another line of work that it's no wonder she doesn't get IMDb credit. (Seriously, what's that about?) Gerald Butler, late of Sparta, playing another doomed guy called Gerry. He's the love interest isn't that cute/sad/cute? (Please don't drop those shorts!) Bref, the kind of high-concept romantic comedy that Jerry Bruckheimer might make if he did comedies. A movie for you to take your girlfriends to, if you're a girl.

This concoction ought to be massively indigestible. No amount of processing could possibly blend its miscellany of stock elements. Even Kathy Bates's wise but bitter mom (as written) is stock-y. Dressing the heroine in knockout neo-Sixties outfits that show off her waist while giving her a Mad Men look what a trip it would be to see PS I Love You alongside Barefoot In the Park! is not the most naturalistic of ideas, either, at least for a movie that doesn't relish the bold artifice of Down With Love. PS I Love You ought to be a bomb, and at several points it almost explodes. For the most part, however, it is operated by a controlled demolition expert by the name of Hilary Swank.

Hilary Swank is believable even when PS I Love You not only isn't, but couldn't even convince an intensive-care staffer that it was suffering a hyperglycemic seizure. She makes this one of the most thoroughly satisfying bad movies that I have ever seen. Warning: there will be weeping. There will also be blinding. Ms Swank may have totally submerged herself in the part of Holly Kennedy, lovestruck widow, but her brilliant teeth threaten to audition for the Rockettes every time she opens her mouth to smile.

It's a good thing, then, that, for the most part, and up until near the end, she smiles with her mouth closed. That's the best that Holly can do. PS I Love You works, of course, because Ms Swank forces you to think long and hard I'd say, feel long and hard if it weren't for the danger of misconstruction about how devastating it would be to lose your mate, if, like me, you have a mate whom you would be devastated to lose. Her projection of deep and unquestionably sincere bereavement through the movie's miasma of meretricious comedy may be merely the latest notch on the actress's Oscar-grade belt, but it's convincing while it lasts, not just a stunt. Her Holly is a woman who has had to grow up so fast losing her wastrel father at fourteen, marrying her charming rogue of a husband at nineteen, and, now, after his death from brain cancer (a horror that the screenplay wisely elides), on her own about fifty years too soon that she needs to stop and catch her bearings at every turn, and Ms Swank glares as she does so with the haunted ferocity of Lady Macbeth. At the same time, she cannot be charged with chewing on the scenery. She graciously yields center stage to Ms Kudrow and to Gina Gershon (who plays her other best friend) whenever the spotlight falls on them. 

In a word, Hilary Swank is not embarrassed by this project. Her performance is right up there with Woody Harrelson's in The Walker. If you thought it was "really something" for Mr Harrelson, hitherto rarely seen without his ten-gallon hat, to play a limp-wristed interior decorator with a taste for extremely silky cravats, just wait till you see Hilary Swank play a second-career shoe designer. Just be sure to see it! (January 2008)

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