Laura Linney's beautiful performance is most of the story in intimate tale of a college admissions officer's affair with a boy half her age. Begins with an intensity reminiscent of Dylan Kidd's first film, "Roger Dodger," but wobbles whenever it strays beyond the central couple. Pic's ultimate modest impact suggests a temperate B.O. future.

Laura Linney’s beautiful performance is most of the story in “p.s.” Intimate tale of a college admissions officer’s affair with a boy half her age begins with an intensity reminiscent of Dylan Kidd’s provocative first film, “Roger Dodger,” but wobbles thereafter whenever it strays beyond the central couple. Linney’s work will generate sufficient acclaim to give the Newmarket release a footing in specialized theatrical release, but pic’s ultimate modest impact suggests an equally temperate B.O. future.

Establishing the same sort of tight focus on his leading character that he did in “Roger” and suggesting a complicity with Linney similar to that he had with Campbell Scott, Kidd introduces Louise Harrington as a woman whose life touches many but who is simultaneously at a great remove from them. From her office window overlooking the Columbia U. campus, Louise can observe students coming and going (and making out), but in evaluating them for the graduate School of Fine Arts, she spends most of her days alone examining applications.

Divorced from Peter (Gabriel Byrne), a popular teacher with the female students, Louise at 39 is still very attractive but feels like she’s heading solo into potentially bleak emotional territory. A tryst with a potential incoming student wouldn’t normally seem like the wise or even legal cure for what ails her. But first there’s the student’s name — F. Scott Feinstadt, for God’s sake. Then there’s his eerie resemblance to her long-dead first love, who was also named Scott, and the unearthly echoes of handsome young ghosts in F. Scott’s striking paintings. And then there’s the fact that he’s very cute and a bit impudent.

This opening section, which embraces a tantalizing phone call between Louise and F. Scott (Topher Grace), intimate chats between Louise and her closest friends Peter and Missy (Marcia Gay Harden), and Louise deliberately choosing a low-cut dress for her interview with the art student, quickly and deftly lays in a great deal of subtext. At the same time, the motives and consequences for Louise and F. Scott are unclear and potentially dangerous; at this early stage, it’s uncertain if they are good-hearted souls guided by genuine emotions or cagey players with ulterior motives.

By the time Louise invites the lad back to her apartment for further discussion, and he proposes painting her portrait, there is no doubt what’s going happen. Consummation of their rapidly aroused passion is credible, detailed and pretty hot in the bargain. It ends with F. Scott’s quite plausible question, “As the head of admissions, can you balance business and pleasure?”

With nothing standing in the way of the twosome continuing to enjoy indefinite, if discreet, bliss, adaptation of Helen Schulman’s novel, penned by Kidd and Schulman, provides diversions that distract from, rather than enhance, the romance that has been so nicely delineated.

For starters, Peter informs Louise, who’s still sensitive over their failed marriage, that he’s finally figured out he’s a sex addict. When he tells her more than she really needs to know, she dismisses him. He doesn’t get the message, however, and when he keeps turning up with additional unsolicited confessions, it’s far more than the audience wants from him as well.

Then there’s Louise’s critical mother (Lois Smith) and recovering druggie brother Sammy (Paul Rudd), both of whom are expert at bringing Louise’s mood and self-esteem down several pegs. And there’s Missy, who arrives in town only revive a long-running argument over who would have ended up with the late Scott had he lived; in Louise’s view, Missy stole Scott from her, and there is the threat that her obsessively sexual old pal might do it again with F. Scott.

Late on, it’s evident Louise is carrying around so much emotional baggage that Missy pointedly remarks, “Some people just refuse to let anything good happen to them.” And so it is, up to a point, with the film, which like its main character spoils a good thing by encumbering the purity and exhilaration of its early stages with too much mysticism and psychobabble.

Still, the smartly concise film has a keen observational sense of human vulnerabilities and foibles which is admirably served by Linney and Grace. Auds have come to expect something special from Linney on almost every occasion, and her fans won’t be disappointed with her turn here, which wonderfully illuminates what it takes for this smart and proper woman to take a bold action, and how much trouble she has confidently following through once she’s done it.

In his best bigscreen outing to date, “That ’70s Show” regular Grace is very appealing and self-possessed at a moment when he’s just on the cusp between being a boy and a man. If Tobey Maguire ever again has hesitations about continuing as Spider-Man, Grace would be an ideal candidate to take over the role.

The estimable supporting thesps are constrained by the narrow conceptions of their characters.

Up-close-and-personal visual style is at the service of the story’s intimate needs, but the score is by a long way too banal and conventional to help amplify the diverse emotional currents that constitute the film’s heart.


  • Production: A Newmarket Films release of a Hart Sharp Entertainment production in association with Fortissimo Film Sales. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam/Hong Kong.) Produced by Robert Kessel, Anne Chaisson, John Hart, Jeff Sharp. Executive producer, Michael Hogan. Co-producer, Allen Bain. Directed by Dylan Kidd. Screenplay, Kidd, Helen Schulman, based on the novel "P.S. I Love You" by Schulman.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Joaquin Baca-Asay; editor, Kate Sanford; music, Craig Wedren; production designer, Stephen Beatrice; costume designer, Amy Westcott; associate producer, Nina Wolarsky; casting, Mackey, Sandrich, Weidman & De Miguel. Reviewed at Sunset screening room, West Hollywood, Aug. 19, 2004. (In Telluride Film Festival; also in Venice Film Festival--Critics Week; Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 97 MIN.
  • With: Louise Harrington - Laura Linney F. Scott Feinstadt - Topher Grace Sammy - Paul Rudd Louise and Sammy's Mother - Lois Smith Peter Harrington - Gabriel Byrne Missy - Marcia Gay Harden