P.S. I Love You: Richard LaGravenese’s romantic melodrama

Richard LaGravenese’s romantic melodrama P.S. I Love You represents a step down from his previous films, “The Fisher King” (directed by Terry Gilliam) and “Living Out Loud” (which he also directed), bittersweet but ultimately uplifting tales about loss, yearning, and redemption.
Those were intelligent films, cast with adults and made for adult viewers, not for teenagers. In contrast, his new, gimmicky film is made for girls and young women, perhaps a reflection of the source material, a novel of the same title by Irish author Cecilia Ahern, who was only 21 when she wrote her book, which became an international bestseller.

Reteaming With Hilary Swank, who had starred in his previous feature, “Freedom Writers,” LaGravenese has co-written (with Steven Rogers) and directed a high-concept Hollywood fable about the importance of love and having a second chapter in life, this time around orchestrated by the very ones we had lost.

Heavily populated by women, including Holly’s mom (Kathy Bates) and her best friends (Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow), “P.S. I Love You” inevitably be labeled a chick flick, though this one skews a bit more toward mature female viewers rather than the youth-oriented fare that usually comes under such label.

Despite having won two Oscars in five years, Hilary Swank is not a bankable star and has no major following among girls or young women. However, handsomer Gerard Butler’s growing stature internationally (after “Phantom of the Opera” and particularly “300”) might increase the meller’s commercial prospects, even if he plays a small part.

Protagonist Holly Kennedy (Swank) is a beautiful and smart real estate agent, who’s married to a passionate, funny and impetuous Irishman named Gerry (Gerard Butler). That we find out more about Gerry’s values later on has to do with the fact that after a long, expository scene, in which the couple argues and reconciles, Gerry dies of terminal ailment (I’m not spoiling any fun here). When Gerry’s life is taken, it takes the life out of Holly. The film could have been called “Gerry Is Gone,” for it reverses the genders of “Grace Is Gone,” in which the widower is a young father, played by John Cusack. (Both films are disappointing, but for different reasons.)

This story’s cute but unbelievable premise is that the only one who can help Holly survive the crisis is Gerry, a man who had always planned ahead. Before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters to guide her through her grief. Since Holly is a young widow–she’s only 30–most of her life is ahead of her and that includes a journey of rediscovery. “P.S I Love You” is meant to be a story about friendship and family, about how love can be strong enough to stretch across life and death. I say meant, because there’s not much evidence of it onscreen.

To Holly’s utter shock, Gerry’s first message arrives on her 30th birthday in a cake, accompanied by a tape recording that orders Holly to get out and “celebrate herself.” In the following weeks and months, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising (but fraudulent) ways, each sending Holly on a new adventure, each signing off in the same way, “P.S. I Love You.”
Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends, Denise (Lisa Kudrow) and Sharon (Gina Gershon), like us audience members, worry that Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past, serving as constant reminder of the good times and hot sex they had together.

However, the movie would like us to believe that, in fact, each letter helps Holly regain her mental welfare, promoting her prospects toward a new future and new philosophy built on the notion that a loved one’s death signals not finality of something but a new beginning.

Most of the gimmicky saga, which gets increasingly predictable and sappy, including its forced humor when the trio of girls go to Ireland, describes that process, or how with Gerry’s words as her guidance, Holly embarks on an exciting journey of discovery about the “real meaning” of life, friendship, and love.

To have such a talented actress in the cast as Kathy Bates and give her nothing to do is close to criminal. And you feel grateful that Lisa Kudrow, as a young widow on a perpetual mission of man-hunting, is not restrained as her colleagues and gets to deliver some funny and rude lines, even in embarrassing situations.

The behind-the-scenes creative team is led by photographer Terry Stacey (“The Nanny Diaries”), production designer Shepherd Frankel (“Step Up”), and costume designer Cindy Evans (“North Country”).

Holly and Gerry complain about their Lower East Side flat for being small and a walk-up, but most New Yorkers would kill to have it. The apartment is designed in such way as to function as the third character in their relationship. The way it’s laid out tells us about who they are. Since there is not enough space in such a tiny apartment to store everything, anything that’s important is visible, like Holly’s shoes, which are prominently displayed.

Through costumes, LaGravenese and his designer suggest the changes in the personality of Holly, a woman whose creativity had been repressed, or didn’t find an outlet for it, perhaps fearing the direction of her future.