Hillary Swank does not have the chin for romance or the rhythm for comedy. Her two Oscars were for earnest, androgynous roles (“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby”) that made the most of her strong jaw and lanky figure. Romantic comedies, even bittersweet ones about perky young widows learning to go on with their lives, need twinkle. Her character wears twinkly dresses and does twinkly things, but Swank delivers her lines as though she is still slamming into that heavy bag.
Swank plays Holly, wife of Gerry (“300”’s Gerard Butler), an open-hearted, free-spirited, utterly devoted Irish musician. Holly is a little high maintenance and feels she has to do all the planning and worrying for both of them. But he understands and loves her devotedly in a dream of chick-lit perfection so complete it is clear he will have to exit the movie before the end of the first reel. We know this because he is willing to perform the gallant “I know something is wrong/just tell me/please forgive me” apology that in real life seems incompatible with the Y chromosome. And he not only dances in his underwear and suspenders to charm her but manages to make it actually quite charming.
There are about ten minutes of this too-good-to-last faux-dorableness. Then we cut to Gerry’s wake at the bar owned by Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates), who has conveniently hired a cute bartender with an impulse control problem (Harry Connick, Jr.).
Holly and Gerry had no money but this is a movie, so she has a “Sex and the City”-worthy shoe collection (from eBay!) and a spacious New York apartment to mourn in. She hides out at home, smelling his clothes and watching old movies. And then she receives the first letter, signed, yes, “P.S. I love you.” Gerry the non-planner had time before he died to come up with a series of letters designed to help Holly move on, while of course reminding her of how charming and devoted he was.
Somehow, that money problem has disappeared, because after he has her empty some emotional and literal closets, Gerry’s letters direct Holly to return to Ireland with her gal pals (the underused Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon). These BFFs have almost no personalities but they do represent places on the romantic spectrum aligned to provide maximum narrative symmetry. In Ireland, Holly has a series of scenic, tender, and life-affirming encounters interspersed with flashbacks of her early days with Gerry.
The movie is based on an international best-seller written by then-21-year-old Cecelia Ahern, daughter of Ireland’s Prime Minister, whose latest project is television’s “Samantha Who?” Ahern knows how to create an appealing set-up and the Ireland scenes are so pretty they will sell a few tickets to tourists. She deserves credit for an ending that takes a bit of a risk. But Holly is not nearly as endearing a character as she is intended to be. An impetuous sexual encounter intended to be empowering, comes across as creepy, especially after he turns out to have an unexpected (only for Holly) connection. Even her connection to Gerry seems immature and self-absorbed. Swank’s chilly performance at the heart of the movie makes it hard for us to relate to Holly’s struggle or her relationships.
Parents should know that this movie has a very sad (off-screen) death, sexual references and situations including gay club, hookers, sex with a stranger portrayed as empowering, some strong language, brief nudity, smoking reference, and a lot of drinking
Families who see this movie should talk about what they would put in letters to family members, and what they would want letters like that to include. Which of Gerry’s letters was the most important?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy You’ve Got Mail and Runaway Bride.