Review: Grief encounters in ‘P.S.’

A grief-shattered widow learns to embrace life again, thanks to a series of tasks delineated by her late husband in letters he wrote while dying, in “P.S. I Love You,” a romantic dramedy that proves as hackneyed as that setup suggests. The gimmick eclipses the human ingredient here, and there isn’t enough charm or credibility in this movie to allow you to believe.

Based on Cecelia Ahern’s bestseller, and directed and cowritten by Richard LaGravenese, the film is a one-hankie fairy tale that makes “Ghost” look profound. Hilary Swank plays Holly, a shoe-loving Manhattanite who loses her fun-loving Irish husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler), to a brain tumor and sinks into a funk. The colorful supporting characters — man-hunting friend Denise (Lisa Kudrow) and cynical pal Sharon (Gina Gershon), among them — worry.

Then a birthday cake arrives, accompanied by a tape recording from the deceased Gerry. The tape states that letters will follow.

When alive, Gerry wrote the letters to help Holly overcome his death. Each contains an assignment, which Holly performs. She buys a disco dress, visits a karaoke joint and vacations in Ireland.

Holly also considers two romantic options: a too-frank bartender (Harry Connick Jr.) and a hunky pub singer (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Good films can certainly be made about grief-sick women (“Truly Madly Deeply” and “Under the Sand,” for example), but this one’s hokum.

LaGravenese, whose “Living Out Loud” and “Freedom Writers” were slightly above-average blends of affecting human drama and phony formula, delivers primarily the latter this time. Blame foremost the screenplay, cowritten with Steven Rogers (“Stepmom”).

Even if you accept that capable, modern Holly needs not only a husband, but a dead one, for guidance, it’s hard to buy this silly story as it unfolds over a lengthy 126 minutes. Additionally, by overconcentrating on the gimmick, LaGravenese fails to focus on the genuine emotion that the central relationship must convey if we are to feel the magnitude of Holly’s loss. With Butler’s Gerry appearing mostly in flashback ghost form and Swank’s heroine presented largely as a Holly-Gotritely presence, little chance exists for such passion to occur.

Among the cast, Kathy Bates, playing Holly’s disapproving but caring mother, is alone in being able to transcend the shallowness, although Swank doesn’t do badly. Displaying her trademark ability to seem deserving, and giving her all, she holds your interest. But in the end, she’s left merely impressively striving.

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