Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review: P.S. I Love You

Starring: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Release Date: December 21, 2007
Running time: 126 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: Warner Bros.

“Chick Flicks”.

It’s kind of a derogatory term if you think about it. I don’t know too many women who like to be referred to as ‘chicks’, and to go so far as to pigeon-hole a whole category of movies with a blanket statement seems equally shallow. Nevertheless, the term is an accepted one and is synonymous with sappy drivel that men the world over find themselves being repeatedly dragged to see in the hopes of building up enough points to talk their better half into seeing the latest Die Hard movie.

Let me step back a moment. Like any genre of movies, I can easily find a few of this type that I can not only sit through, but would go so far as to say that I like. The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything. These movies all tell a great story, but do so by playing it straight. I suppose the same can be said about movies of ANY genre but these types of movies have that much more hingeing on their ability to keep it real. P.S. I Love You is the newest addition to that little sorority of films. As with any organized social club, there is an unquenchable need for immediate acceptance. P.S. I Love You attempts to overcome this by bringing a new dish to the table. It's just a pity that the ingredients are stale and undercooked.

It begins by showing us a couple: an ‘as Irish as Lucky Charms’ Gerry Kennedy (Gerard Butler) and his ditzy American wife, Holly (Hilary Swank). They are on their way home from some sort of event and they are fighting. Or better yet, she is mad and he is trying to figure out why and what he can do to make it stop. The fight itself drags on at a snail’s pace and never really accomplishes anything, much like it would in real life. They bicker back and forth. She nit-picks at flaws of his that have nothing to do with their current fight. He does his best to defend himself and reminds her that she is crazy. (Not Farrah Fawcett-on-Letterman crazy, but cutesy, frazzled, Meg Ryan-type crazy). Or in other words, much like it would happen in real life. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the film switches gears.

Cue the tears.

Gerry dies. Brain tumor. The rest of the characters are introduced all at once in a convenient little funeral scene because that’s what happens in chick flicks. We meet Holly’s tightly wound mother Elizabeth (Kathy Bates), her best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow), and Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) a seemingly random bartender. You don’t have to wonder for very long how random that guy is to the story. Holly falls into depression until her family comes to her rescue on her 30th birthday. A cake is delivered with a taped message from Gerry.

Tears in three…two...

In the message he informs Holly that she is to expect a letter in the mail the next day followed by a slew of others, each containing a task for her to complete to try and ease her grief and transition her into her new life without him.

…one... and… GO.

But to start with, she is to forget about that, put on her Sunday best and go get hammered. It was more eloquently put, but that’s what happened. The rest of the movie follows Holly as she receives these random letters with random tasks showing her the light as she – what else? – picks up the pieces, finds herself, and the strength to move on and live life.

I realize a lot of movies rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief but I never got on board with the whole premise. Not necessarily the idea of a dead husband controlling his wife’s life from the grave, but the preparation he had to have gone through to get there. He’s dying of a brain tumor and has the strength to pull together a plan of such epic proportions? This from the guy who started the movie fighting with his wife because he said the wrong thing at dinner? This from the guy who spent the first 15 minutes of the movie telling his wife she needed to stop planning out her life so much and just roll with it? And NOW he wants her to grieve and give up the next year of her life chasing these letters? I don’t know – I just didn’t buy it. Rather than taking a cue from the great stories of the genre, it tried a little too hard to get a little too cute.

Lisa Kudrow and Harry Connick Jr. steal their scenes. Not because they are particularly good in them (well, Connick is), but their characters add some much needed life to the story. This is little more than a ‘choose your own adventure’ version of a romantic comedy. There are usually only a couple ways any given plot point will end up, and it doesn’t stray from the path – at all. Swank is a good actress, or at least she has been in the past. She even has two Oscars to prove it. She just can’t seem to find the off-switch on her dramatic chops here. In the end all it means is that after this foray into romantic comedy, her funniest role remains The Next Karate Kid. Too bad that one wasn’t on purpose either.

And there’s the rub.

** out of ****

No comments: