The last few times we've seen Hilary Swank on screen she was winning Academy Awards in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) and then doing her best to help us forget she won Oscars by making "Black Dahlia" (2006) and "The Reaping" (2007). With other films like "Insomnia" (2002), "Freedom Writers" (2007), and now the romantic semi-comedy "P.S. I Love You" (2007) on Blu-ray, she is certainly in no danger of Hollywood typecasting.
Nor has co-star Gerard Butler done any less varied work in the past few years. Consider "Mrs. Brown" (1997), "Dracula 2000" (2000), "Reign of Fire" (2002), "Dear Frankie" (2004, and his best film to date), "The Phantom of the Opera" (2004), and "300" (2006).
Based on the best-selling 2004 novel by Cecilia Ahern, "P.S. I Love You" does what every romance and romantic comedy strives to do to survive: It provides a gimmick. Sure, it might have been better to provide more romance and more honest humor, but a gimmick's a gimmick, and you gotta have one. In this instance, the gimmick is pretty simple. A married couple--an Irish-born man named Gerry Kennedy (Butler) and his American-born Irish wife Holly (Swank)--are very much in love. Then, after nine years of marriage, Gerry dies of a brain tumor. OK, not the sunniest way to begin a romantic film. But wait. Here's the gimmick: Before he died, he wrote a series of letters to Holly, detailing how she should live her life to the fullest after he's gone, and these letters mysteriously show up intermittently for a year or more after his passing.
Frankly, I found the death of a loved one pretty depressing, even in high definition. Worse, I thought the idea of a dead loved one directing another person's life more than a little creepy. If you can get by those two hurdles, though, you're halfway home. I say "halfway" because the final hurdle is the movie itself, which doesn't offer a lot of possibilities. Basically, what you've got is Gerry speaking from the grave to tell Holly what she ought to do for herself, like celebrate, shop, go to a karaoke bar, and visit Ireland. And that's about it. There is little character development and even less story arc, except at the very end where everything changes abruptly.
After about ten or fifteen minutes of showing us Gerry and Holly's marriage, the movie tells us that Gerry died. Then we get what seems like an eternity of Holly's moping around and carrying Gerry's urn of ashes with her wherever she goes. When on the occasion of her thirtieth birthday Holly receives a cake from her deceased husband, it's downright weird and tends to encapsulate what seems to me an oddly depressing "romantic" film.
I'm sure Ms. Ahern intended her story idea in the spirit of love and good will, and apparently book lovers adored it because the novel sold quite a few copies. But as a movie, it didn't translate well to the screen. It comes off merely as a series of bizarre, melancholy experiences about a young woman who has suffered a tragic loss in her life and wants everyone to know it. To me, that's not much of a subject for light comedy or romance, but I suppose that's the beauty of the gimmick. It's a movie about the unexpected, a movie about the unique and the fascinating. Still, that doesn't make it any the less morbid. The letters, which arrive enigmatically, and all conclude with the line "P.S. I Love You," do buck up Holly's spirits, if not ours. As I say, the filmmakers mean well, but instead of a celebration of life, the whole thing seems like an extended wake.
This is not, however, to suggest that there aren't a few good things mixed in with the mediocre. Certainly, the acting is first rate, with Swank and Butler caught up in a story that seems much too lightweight, even empty, for their talents. Poor Butler has to do most of his acting as a flashback memory. Likewise, Lisa Kudrow and Gena Gershon as Holly's best friends give it their best but seem at a loss for anything much to do. Kathy Bates plays Holly's mother and, and while she is quite persuasive, she adds another layer of grief to the proceedings, her character a bitter, angry woman who appears to hate all men after her husband walked out on her and her children. About the only actor who has a good time is Harry Connick, Jr. as a socially maladjusted bartender. He's the best part of the show, and all of his scenes have a spark of vitality about them, if peculiar and perplexing, that's sorely missing from the rest of the film.
There are also cute segments dealing with a karaoke bar, a singing messenger, and a "wild" dog, plus some gorgeous photography of Ireland late in the picture. But these bits are few and far between, and the rest of the film is filled with stereotypes and clichés. You say you like stereotypes and clichés? No problem; this film's got a boatload of them. Since Gerry is Irish, the film portrays him as boisterous, brawling, loving, and carefree, like all Irishmen. Since Holly is also Irish, their marriage is like all Irish marriages--they're fighting and quarreling one minute, loving and happy the next. Since Holly's mother is Irish, she owns a bar. And since the film sets the last third or so of the story in Ireland, it pictures everyone we see there as living in quaint country cottages overlooking rolling green hills, lakes, and woods.
At 127 minutes, the movie is much too long for its slender subject matter. With a healthy dose of pathos, not nearly enough humor mixed in with the romance, and a fairly mushy (if admittedly touching) conclusion, "P.S. I Love You" is a lot less than the sum of its parts.
Like its standard-definition counterpart, the picture quality on this 1080p, VC-1, Blu-ray video transfer varies from scene to scene. Colors, in general, are bright and deep, especially outdoor shots like the ones in Ireland and especially in high def. Then there are other scenes, like indoor shots in low lighting, that remain steadfastly soft, rough, and fuzzy no matter the screen resolution, with darker areas, including small areas of shadow and even faces, looking somewhat murky. When the picture is good, it's as good as it gets, and when it isn't, well, it's fairly ordinary. Object delineation is definitely crisper and sharper in high def than in SD, but it is not exactly a night-and-day difference. Fortunately, there are no indications of excessive grain, noise, haloing, or the like, so the screen is fairly clean in that regard.
I'm not sure why Warner Bros. chooses to use lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on some high-def discs and not on others, but I'm not complaining when they do. This TrueHD soundtrack does little more than reproduce dialogue and music, but it comes across smoothly and realistically, with a well-focused, well-controlled bass. What's more, because the music is most often a solo voice and guitar, there is no great need for surround sound or wide dynamics. The front-channel stereo spread is more than adequate, and the tonal balance is quite natural. I quite enjoyed the sound, so all is well.
The pocketful of extras is the same as on WB's standard-definition disc, except that two of the four major items are in high def. Things begin with "A Conversation with Cecelia Ahern" (HD), seven minutes with the young author of the novel on which the filmmakers based the movie. Next is a music video (SD), "Same Mistake," a song from the film, with James Blunt. Then there's "The Name of the Game Is Snaps: Learn How to Play" (HD), a cute, put-on advertisement for the goofy game in the movie. Finally, there is a series of additional scenes (SD) lasting about twelve minutes. Things wrap up with twenty-eight scene selections (but no chapter insert); English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and pop-up menus.
During the months before the release of "P.S. I Love You" to theaters, I probably saw the trailer for it a half a dozen times, a trailer that suggested the movie was a romantic comedy. I'd say if you saw the trailer, you probably saw most of the film's humor. Otherwise, there isn't much substance, funny or otherwise, to the story; there isn't much happening that you can't guess well in advance; and there isn't much to the high-def picture and sound except intermittently. Moreover, even though Holly and Gerry have a loving relationship, it puts rather a damper on the situation when he dies early on, and all we have to see forevermore is how happy the couple used to be and could have been. It's hard to beat the story's ending, yet, overall, it's one that probably reads better than it comes off on screen.