The question of love after death has been asked frequently enough in the movies, but seldom with the high ick factor found in “P.S. I Love You.” “Ghost” with a brogue, “The Notebook” without the burden of old people, this post-life comedy will have the sentimentally challenged weeping openly, while clutching desperately to the pants-legs of boyfriends and husbands who are trying to flee up the aisle. Richard LaGravenese’s trip into Lifetime territory may define the guilty pleasure of the genre.
In the film’s long, long pre-credits opening, Gerry (Gerard Butler) performs a striptease as LaGravenese sets up his near-perfect marriage to Holly (Hilary Swank) that is about to be sabotaged by Gerry’s yet-to-be-diagnosed brain tumor.
As for Swank, she spends just enough time in her underwear to suggest an effort to eroticize the star of “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Freedom Writers,” while trying to recover from her husband’s premature death and attending to all the things Gerry’s arranged for her to do. You wonder how she’s going to do it–she’s like an overscheduled child on the Upper East Side.
We don’t see Gerry during his illness — what fun would that be? — but, apparently, the man was lucid enough to plot out Holly’s entire year post-Gerry, instructions for which are enclosed in letters delivered through mysterious means and which always include the title of the film (sob …) as well as directives for party-going, karaoke singing and throwing out his stuff.
LaGravenese, who is better known for having scripted “The Fisher King,” “A Little Princess” and “The Bridges of Madison County” than for directing the respectable “Living Out Loud” and “Freedom Writers,” leaves no sentimental stone unturned in what for the charismatic Scotsman Butler is a painful exercise in Irish-accented emoting and manufactured charm.
Swank, cheerful yet grief-stricken as Holly, gives a decent enough performance, as do Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow as the sidekicks who usher Holly through her mourning, and whose lives move on even as Holly’s doesn’t.
The idea of an ostensibly liberated woman living in Manhattan (despite having no visible means of support) and being dictated to by her late spouse may seem incongruous to some, and offensive to others. But to still others, it will spell a romantic ideal, embodied in a dead guy who cared enough to plan an entire year of his widow’s life, replete with a trip to Ireland and a push toward new romantic horizons. Will she end up with Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) who is charming but seems to suffer from a form of autism (seriously)? Or with Gerry’s childhood friend William (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whom she just happens to meet/sleep with while traveling through the Emerald Isle?
As an exercise in chick-flickery, “P.S. I Love You” wants to possess the soulfulness of harsh reality and the lilt of romantic fantasy at the same time. In this case, at least, it simply can’t be done.