Review: P.S. I Love You

"P.S. I Love You" (IMDb listing) is a tender, audience-pleasing dramedy/tear-jerker that writer/director Richard LaGravenese forces you to hate. Why a film of great heartwarming potential crumbles so catastrophically in the second half is a question perhaps better left unanswered, but the end product is a mess, and an infuriating one at that.

Holly (Hilary Swank) and Irish lad Gerry (Gerard Butler) are a married couple madly in love. When Gerry dies of a brain tumor, Holly is devastated, unsure of her future in both life and love. While friends (Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow), family (Kathy Bates), and lovesick strangers (Harry Connick Jr.) are there to offer support, Holly feels alone until the day a letter arrives from Gerry, promising great adventures to come. Arranging a series of dares and trips over the course of a year, Gerry reaches out from beyond the grave to comfort Holly and help her adjust to a new life without him.

"Love You" has been polluted with a case of the adaptation blues, with LaGravenese and co-writer Steven Rogers overtaxing their gifts to bring Cecelia Ahern's novel to the big screen. It's seems they've altered the source material severely, reconstructing the plot to meet Hollywood "chick flick" standards, painting themselves into artistic corners all over the movie. It's not a clean piece of filmmaking, and an even worse screenplay, but "Love You" is hardly without appeal.

For the first half, with Holly wallowing in her mourning, "Love You" rests on a divine tone of loss and uncomfortable comedy. LaGravenese seems content exploring the characters' unease with Gerry's death and the difficulty of getting Holly to express her feelings. There's plenty of sitcom situations that pinch patience (comedic karaoke sequences are never good idea), but I was struck by how emotionally organic the movie becomes, and how remarkable it was to find Holly's grieving so sympathetic, due in great part by Swank's raw nerve performance.

Also popping up in a sparkling supporting role is prickly pear songstress Nelly McKay, who isn't handed much to do for her acting debut, but makes a strong impression as Holly's slightly kooky sister. McKay has a bubbly delivery and classic movie twinkle, and I hope to see more of her in the future, even if I equate her music to a slow, excruciating death.

As Gerry leaves his letters behind, prompting Holly to face her fears, the action suddenly takes the widow to Ireland, where the story promptly curls up and dies. It's here Holly's friends morph into full-fledged harpies, and an irksome romance is ignited with a dim Irish rocker (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Of course the film isn't brave enough to suggest that Holly is simply replacing one hunky failure with another, because that would crack some reality into the story. By this time, LaGravenese is too caught up in molding his film into a nonsensical, pandering melodrama to notice the story has dropped even the slightest whiff of logic and scraped off every bit of charm it once held. The Ireland subplot takes "Love You" from an agreeable sniffler to a clueless, frustrating viewing experience.

I must admit, the filmmaker knows his audience well: parading around brawny actors, taking the action to a gay club where Holly drowns her sorrows, including wedding and pregnancy stingers, dealing with mommy issues, and turning Holly into a shoe designer by film's end. Had the story been even the slightest bit simpler, LaGravenese might've struck gold with "P.S. I Love You." Instead, he's created a sprawling jumble of a picture, corrupting the intimacy such a tale of magical woe demands.

Filmfodder Grade: C