|Gerry (Gerard Butler) dies but leaves behind letters to raise the spirits of his wife, Holly (Hilary Swank). (Norman jean roy/warner bros. via ap)|
Could there be a more selfless star than Hilary Swank? Having ascended to fame like an angel playing women who die, she's generously decided in "P.S. I Love You" to give someone else a chance. This time it's Gerard Butler - wait a minute, didn't he just lead the Spartan army to its death in "300"? Well, now he's Gerry, a hunky happy-go-lucky musical Irishman (do the movies know any other kind?); and after 20 minutes, he's dead. But the letters he's left behind are intended to keep his girlish wife, Holly (Swank), from becoming "the Ms. Havisham of the Lower East Side."
The notes are full of high-calorie personality. "Come on, Disco Diva," begins one. (Did Gerry have a secret career doing deep-house dance remixes?) They predict where Holly will be standing when she reads them and how she'll react to this or that sentence. These letters and the flashbacks they produce take away her autonomy while demanding she get a life. If Gerry says do karaoke (he actually does), she more or less asks, "How high?" He wants her to throw out his clothes and go to Ireland, where, sadly, no one calls Swank "mo cuishle."
This movie doesn't have enough fresh air to play on Oxygen. Its agenda might be epistolary, but its brain is covered in Post-its. The director is Richard LaGravenese, the otherwise bright man who's adapted Cecelia Ahern's novel with Steven Rogers. LaGravenese has an interesting body of work. The screenplay for "The Fisher King" and the mostly funny one for "The Ref" were his. And he's spun dross into Hollywood gold ("The Bridges of Madison County") and turned gold into dross (he's one of the names credited for "Beloved"). His first movie as a director, 1998's "Living Out Loud," with Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah, had some grace amid the talky awkwardness.
"P.S. I Love You" is blithely inept. The movie wants to be thoughtful and cute and self-helping: behold, as the letters help Holly discover her vocation! But, boy, is it a chore to look at, and LaGravenese doesn't string together enough decent scenes for any kind of entertainment to take hold. For one thing, his camera doesn't always know what to look at. Sometimes it doesn't know when to look away. Every time Swank and Butler kiss, you feel the earth move. But that's only because you're watching two tectonic plates press hard against each other.
An episode of "Men in Trees" has more to recommend it. And "P.S. I Love You" is a comedy with Harry Connick Jr. as a cracked suitor of Holly's, Kathy Bates as her mother, and Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow as her best friends. Except for the musician Nellie McKay, who plays Gerry's cool-ditz sister, they're all fine, especially Kudrow, who tries a little of everything with the dialogue - boldface, italics, underline. But what they're doing is ultimately so banal it hurts. The long scenes suggest writers at work ("P.P.S I Love You"?). Their monotony suggests they didn't work very hard. The would-be-slapstick sight of Swank, Gershon, and Kudrow falling all over a fishing boat is enough to make you pray a dorsal fin comes floating by.