P.S. I Love You

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Her husband may be gone, but for neurotic New Yorker Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank), the charismatic Irishman lingers like a haunting refrain. Writer-director Richard LaGravenese attempts to create Ghost without the ghost in P.S. I Love You, a beyond-the-grave love story that echoes Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990). In Truly, a deceased lover returns in spectral form to help his beloved through the grieving process, something the wily Gerry Kennedy (Gerard Butler) achieves here through a series of letters to his widow.

Gerry seems charming and feckless in life, as seen in extensive flashbacks and the film's opening scene, a drawn-out argument with dialogue ripped from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Yet, after he dies from a brain tumor (which happens off-screen), a very different Gerry emerges, one who effectively micromanages his flighty wife's life for the next year via the letters and a trip to his hometown in Ireland, where they met nearly a decade before. All of this is meant to be immensely romantic, but comes off as domineering and slightly creepy.

In the 1990s, LaGravenese became a much-sought-after adapter of middlebrow romances (The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer), able to construct solid romantic storylines from flimsy, maudlin material. But his directorial debut, Living Out Loud (1998), was thoroughly disingenuous, unsuccessfully grafting a quirky, individual philosophy (a la his breakthrough film, The Fisher King) onto the conventional structure and expectations of a Hollywood romance. P.S. has similar problems.

LaGravenese and co-screenwriter Steven Rogers streamline the debut novel from chick lit author (and daughter of the Irish prime minister) Cecelia Ahern, and keep its deep love for all things Eire. From a wake drenched in Irish whiskey (and prominently featuring the Pogues' acerbic "Fairytale of New York") to impossibly beautiful sequences filmed in County Wicklow, P.S. seems more in love with Ireland than its deceased hero Butler (who's from Scotland).

Swank is in nearly every frame of this overlong film, and LaGravenese (who directed her in Freedom Writers) has put a great deal of effort into feminizing the usually tough-as-nails actress. The result is a dolled-up Swank whose weepy, passive performance is devoid of the powerful screen presence seen in Oscar-winners Boys Don't Cry (1999) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). She may enjoy being a girl, but hasn't yet found a way to make that convincing.

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