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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


P.S. I Love You is a prime example of a movie not trusting its premise or its stars. One of these pictures comes along every so often; they have some really strong elements, yet feel the need to surround those elements with stuff that doesn't work in an attempt to somehow dress up the subject matter. In this case, the story is about death and mourning, and you get the strong impression that no one involved wanted to risk being labeled "depressing," so they inserted a lot of lame comic moments into a film that doesn't need them. With its May 6 DVD release, I have a suspicion that P.S. I Love You will find a strong following; however, it doesn't reach the status of Classic Tearjerker that better pictures (like The Notebook) have.

Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler play Holly and Gerry, a married couple in New York. The first time we see them, they're fighting, but they quickly make up and engage in some serious lovemaking. The thing I noticed immediately in this extended opening is that the two actors have enormous chemistry together. Unlike a lot of on-screen couples, Swank and Butler made me believe these people were deeply in love.

The plot then jumps to a short time later. We discover that Gerry has passed away, the result of a brain tumor. Holly is in deep grieving. She doesn't shower or clean the apartment. She's become a hermit, much to the dismay of her mother (Kathy Bates) and gal pals (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon). They try to get her involved in life again, but the thing that really motivates her is a series of letters secretly written by Gerry in his final days, which mysteriously arrive every so often. In them, he details things he wants Holly to do in his absence. His pearls of wisdom include "buy a new dress" and "sing karaoke." As Holly follows every instruction, we see (in flashback) her memories of happy times with Gerry: how they met in Ireland, how they joked with and loved each other.

I was okay with all this material, especially since it gets the little details right. Because we believe the romance between the couple, it's affecting when, for example, the newly widowed Holly rolls over in the middle of the night to cuddle with the husband she forgets isn't there.

It's everything else that's a problem. P.S. I Love You has, at its core, a very intimate and poignant story about life and love after death. It also has two mega-talented stars who are capable of selling the material in a way that is affecting. And yet, for some reason, writer/director Richard LaGravenese has surrounded the solid core of his movie with a lot of stuff that feels ripped straight out of a bad sitcom. For instance, Holly and her girlfriends have a number of wacky misadventures, including a trip to Ireland where they do a series of pratfalls inside a small rowboat. (The flick is big on pratfalls, in fact: in another scene, Holly trips over some wires while onstage.) Unlike Gerry and Holly, these supporting characters don't talk or act like real people; they sound like they all have their own personal gag writers feeding them quips for every occasion.

The same is true for the other men in the picture. Holly is squeezed into two completely unconvincing potential romances. One is with an Irish pub musician (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who keeps popping up all too conveniently. The other is with a New York bartender (Harry Connick, Jr.) who has a penchant for uncontrollably saying obnoxious things. We're supposed to laugh at his inadvertent rudeness, but it plays more depressing than anything. We can't help but feel that what Holly had with Gerry will never be found with either of these two.

P.S. I Love You is supposed to be about "moving on. The parts of it that work indicate how good the film could have been. Swank and Butler are game to do the emotional digging, that's for sure. (If you're a fan of either actor, the movie is still worth a look on DVD just to enjoy the performances.) I only wish that LaGravenese had more confidence in his material. We don't need the goofy friends. We don't need the forced new romances. All we need is a simple story about a woman coming to the realization that her late husband wants her to go on living without him.

Bottom line: when I see a movie like this, I want to have a lump in my throat and be reaching for the Kleenex when it's over. But P.S. I Love You seems to think it's tacky to tug at your heartstrings too much, so it leavens the drama with comedy that simply doesn't work. If the humor had worked - or if it had been omitted altogether - this could have been a 4-hanky tearjerker. Unfortunately, when it was over, I felt nothing.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

P.S. I Love You arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 6, with an HD-DVD version to be released on May 20. On DVD, the film is presented in a fullscreen version one side of the disc and a widescreen version on the other.

There are a number of bonus features included, beginning with an interview with Cecilia Ahern, who wrote the book on which the film is based. She essentially showers the adaptation with love, but who can blame her for being excited to have two A-list actors sign on?

There are also several minutes of deleted scenes. Most of them develop the subplots of the supporting characters. The most interesting is a flashback in which we see the ailing Gerry trying to covertly arrange a vacation for Holly. I think this scene was best left on the cutting room floor because it's more powerful that we never see Gerry sick during the film; nevertheless, it does feature strong work from Gerard Butler that is nicely preserved here.

Rounding out the DVD is the music video for James Blunt's song "Same Mistake" (which is used in the film) and a tutorial on how to play the mysterious game "Snaps," which is referenced a couple times within the story. Be patient: at first, I thought the feature was just toying with me, but eventually you really do learn the rules of this incredibly obtuse game. You may not want to play it, but if you see the film, you'll definitely want to know how to play, as the obscure rules are the subject of a running joke.

P.S. I Love You is rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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