' ' Cinema Romantico: P.S. I Love You

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

P.S. I Love You

Of all my favorite actors and actresses no one has a more perplexing resume than Hilary Swank. She won an Oscar for playing the real life Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and she did solid supporting work opposite Al Pacino in both "The Gift" (2000) and "Insomnia" (2002) - standing out but never above - and, of course, there was her second Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), the role of hers I cherish most of all in which she becomes boxing prodigy Maggie Fitzgerald, so much so that you forget she is Hilary Swank. Even Kate Winslet has roles where you are still aware of the fact she is Kate Winslet playing someone else (see: "Revolutionary Road") but in "Million Dollar Baby" Swank achieved complete transformation, a rare feat that still leaves me astounded. Except Swank counteracts all this with "The Reaping" (Apocalypse Movie) and "Freedom Writers" (Inspirational Teacher Movie) and "Amelia" (Boring Biopic Movie) and "P.S. I Love You" (Rom Com Movie).

Is it a case of having to get her in "the right role", as the theory goes, or she is just poor at choosing what roles she takes? And with her latest feature "Conviction", for which I will no doubt regret buying a ticket, on the horizon (in theaters Friday), I decided to investigate. I Netflixed Richard LaGravenese's 2007 adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's novel which currently registers a cool 23% at venerable Rotten Tomatoes. Luckily I had some Italian Roast coffee beans on hand to grind up and brew in order to steel my nerves. Here goes....

The film opens with a lengthy sequence wherein Holly (Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) have an argument over the merits of having a baby and the direction in which their marriage is headed and the crappiness of an apartment that looked pretty all right to me, yada yada yada, before they reverse course and apologize and make out and declare their love, yada yada yada, at which point Gerry says something about how he's "not going anywhere" at which point the audience realizes he is going somewhere and, sure enough, when the opening credit have wrapped up it seems Gerry has died as we have arrived at his hella cool wake along with Holly and her family and friends.

Soon, however, Holly has succumbed to obligatory Widower Mode, not bathing, eating takeout, and sing-alongs with Judy Garland videos. Her friends and family arrive on her 30th birthday, intent to break her from this self-imposed prison, but what really breaks her free is the cake that shows up at the same time, a cake delivered along with a letter from....Gerry.

Yes, it seems prior to his untimely passing Gerry wrote up a total of 10 letters for his spouse all with whimsical musings and specific instructions for her to follow. She has to re-face her fear of (ye gods!) karaoke and he sets up a vacation for her and her two pals (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon, both high priced window dressing) to visit his Irish homeland where she meets and falls - maybe, kinda - for his former bandmate which just seems not quite right if you think about it. I mean, if Keith Richards passed away (and he never will, but I need the reference) would Patti Hansen grieve and then take up with Ron Wood? Meanwhile a socially awkward bartender (Harry Connick Jr.) pines for Holly from afar even though he's right up close.

Perhaps the film's funniest line is when Kathy Bates, playing Swank's mother, says of these letters "I have to say I was impressed by how he worked everything out ahead of time....every delivery schedule, every mailbox key." Tell me about it, Kathy! The letters illustrate the film's flaws. Part of it yearns to truly show a woman mourning the unexpected, too-soon passing of her beloved spouse and how she can't move on but it undermines all this tough subject matter with a rom com treasure hunt that essentially suggests Holly herself does not have the toughness and resolve to move on. What would she have done without her husband guiding the way from the ever-after? Why, probably get buried beneath all the trash in her apartment and have to wait for someone to rescue her! It's not like she could rescue herself! After all, she's nothing more than a hapless damsel with killer hats!

What struck me most about Swank's performance was the way in which she was at her best in the more serious moments and at her worst when she was asked to channel her inner-Jennifer Garner. I don't think this has as much to do with the masculinity of her best roles, as has often been suggested, as the fact that she is merely better served by weighty material than by fluff.

As I thought a bit more about the movie I realized, sadly, reluctantly, that "P.S. I Love You" bears striking similarities to "Elizabethtown", Cameron Crowe's tepidly received 2006 rom com that I - against all logic - declared I would take to a desert island. Much like Gerry guides Holly to salvation with his letters, Kirsten Dunst's Claire guides Orlando Bloom's Drew to salvation with her explicitly mapped out road trip. So how is it possible I can adore one and abhor the other? Well, I think it's the same reason Hilary Swank can go from giving the second best performance of the 00's to making a movie about drilling through the planet earth to get to its core. It's a sentiment best summarized in "Michael Clayton" by Sydney Pollack: "People are f---ing incomprehensible."


Andrew K. said...

See, you lost me at doubting the brilliance of Revolutionary Road :)

My sister once tried to force me to watch this but I sidled out it. I heard Lisa Kudrow was great in it, so next time I may not avoid it as much.

Nick Prigge said...

I'm sorry but I just couldn't get into "Revolutionary Road." Granted, I'd been building up the next Kate/Leo pairing in my mind for 12 years. Not to mention I almost always fail to enjoy movie adaptations of my favorite books and "Revolutionary Road" is one of my favorite books. So I might have been doomed to be disappointed from the start.