U.S. Release Date: December 21, 2007
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writer: Richard LaGravenese, Steven Rogers
Producer: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Molly Smith
Composer: John Powell
Cast: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, James Marsters, Harry Connick Jr., Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Running Time: 2 hours and 6 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sexual references and brief nudity)

Swank Sings in Poignant Postscripts
by Scott Holleran

The perfect movie for Christmas is the surprisingly progressive P.S. I Love You. Despite drawbacks and more clichés than an office Christmas party, this romance starring Hilary Swank works on every level—and it hits home for the holidays.

The movie will not immediately ring jingle bells with a theme about a dead husband (Gerard Butler) who reaches from beyond the grave to inspire his widow (Swank). Starting with a pat lovers' spat, P.S. I Love You is ultimately rooted in reality, peeling back the layers of one couple's lives.

The novel-based story begins just before his life expires, and, when opening credits roll, it's a slide show of love story snapshots. The remainder of the journey—using the deceased's letters, mysteriously delivered to his wife in scheduled intervals after he died—fills the gaps. The movie improves as it goes.

That it flirts with formula does not hinder its ability to evince tears and laughter. Melodramatic, realistic and romantic, P.S. I Love You appropriately saves the best for last. 'Tis the season and those who welcome happy endings will not be disappointed, though this one is achieved through small, tentative steps, like life's most difficult lessons, some of which are often deeply felt in the last days of a given year.

Living in what must be New York's ugliest apartment building on a corner of Orchard Street, job-hopping Holly (Swank) and her Irish-born spouse Gerry (Butler) are both typical independent, urban Americans; they work hard, wonder whether to have kids, and they have a lot of growing up to do. Their social lives involve hanging out in bars and director Richard LaGravenese taps today's adult city lifestyle.

That means Holly's friends (Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow) include an amiable pal and an acerbic feminist and mom (impeccable Kathy Bates) owns a bar staffed by an awkward Yankees fan (Harry Connick, Jr.). There's a younger sister, too, who says what's on her mind and does as she pleases.

Everyone tries to console Holly when Gerry dies in the prime of life. But, as anyone who has lost someone dear knows, grief is unique to the individual and Holly holes up, hides and refuses to let go. Because he loved her, Gerry knew this would happen—a point the movie supports as it moves along—and this is where his letters enter the picture.

The correspondence is not hokey nostalgia; Gerry's letters are about Holly, which only endears Gerry to Holly, who goes from numbness to an awareness of her potential through Gerry's eyes. When all is written and read, with classic Hollywood guideposts on the road to breaking free, P.S. I Love You's theme that true love begins with egoism—and the word "I"—comes through. Peppered references to luck, leprechauns and what comes "out of the blue" notwithstanding, Holly remakes her own life while honoring the memory of her husband. She does so of her own volition and, as a transformation, it's fabulous.

So is Hilary Swank, who exudes love, loss and the energy of a person desperately trying to cope and achieve something more—something meaningful—in life. Whether she's unknowingly tearing the heart out of Connick's hapless bartender or flirting with a handsome roadside stranger, Swank's a strong, vulnerable and natural presence. LaGravenese, who also directed her in the winning Freedom Writers, ought to make it three for three and continue to work with her; he allows her to shine by letting her be.

Butler is fine, too, as alpha male Gerry, who calls upon his woman to be her best in every situation, though his role is necessarily limited. Butler's chemistry with Swank ignites their few, pivotal scenes and fuels the movie. Gerry's notes come with instructions that play out as episodes within chapters, from a vocal performance that allows Holly to stop suppressing her pain to an important discovery. Each realization is part of a progression toward personal happiness.

Losing someone close, like any major loss, tends to show the crinkles and cracks in one's life and P.S. I Love You does it up in spades. Holly's resurgence falters and flows; she gets angry with friends for moving on, she makes mistakes and she falls apart, running to mommy in the picture's most emotional scene—with the always powerful Miss Bates cashing in on earlier moments—and Holly, letting go of what's no longer alive, emerges with joy, not pain, as her goal.

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