After winning two Oscars for portraying characters who challenged traditional gender roles and wound up getting beaten to death for their troubles, I can understand why Hilary Swank might want to do a more traditional chick flick along the lines of her new movie, “P.S. I Love You.” What I can’t understand is why she didn’t hold out for a better one than this fairly pedestrian effort that feels like a cross between a Lifetime Original Movie and the kind of project that Meg Ryan would have turned down back in the 90's for being just a little too hackneyed and cliched for its own good.Swank plays Holly Kennedy, a young woman whose entire life essentially shuts down when her beloved husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler) passes away from a brain tumor. After weeks of moping around the house and memorizing every line of dialogue from the Judy Garland version of “A Star is Born,” she receives a letter from Gerry informing her that he will be sending her a series of messages containing tasks that she is to perform without question or hesitation. With the aid of her best pals (Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon), her stern-but-loving mother (Kathy Bates) and a socially maladjusted bartender (Harry Connick Jr), Holly follows Gerry instructions in ways that take her from the stage of a local karaoke bar (where her allegedly comic tumble off the stage may send a chill down the spine of anyone who saw the result of a similar accident in “Million Dollar Baby”) to the quaint Irish village where they first met and inevitably, Holly gradually begins to learn to put the past behind her and carve out a new life for herself.
In other words, “P.S. I Love You,” which is based on the popular chick-lit novel by Cecelia Ahern, doesn’t offer viewers anything that they haven’t seen before in a weepie of this type. In fact, the story plods along in such a predictable manner that I kept expecting that there was some giant twist on the horizon–maybe the messages from Gerry would have reminded Holly that perhaps he wasn’t the idealized version of a perfect mate that formed in her mind after her passing. Of course, my thoughts may have drifted in this direction because of the simple fact that the Gerry that we get to see in the various flashbacks never struck me as anything other than a colossally annoying ass (and as embodied by the relentlessly drab Butler, an uncommonly boring one to boot)–how else would you describe a guy who apparently dedicated the last few months of his life to arranging what amounts to a giant emotional scavenger hunt for his widow-to-be?To be fair to “P.S. I Love You” (the title alone screams out the essentially generic nature of the entire enterprise) does have a few nice moments here and there–there are a couple of funny lines that crop up here and there, some nice supporting turns from the likes of Gershon, Kudrow and Connick (whose character inspires the biggest laughs) and at least one of the plotlines–the burgeoning relationship between the Swank and Connick characters–ends on a nicely unexpected note. The best thing about the film, however, is seeing Swank in a lighter role than we are used to seeing her in (and it says a lot about her choice in parts that playing a grieving and emotionally paralyzed widow could be considered “lighter”) as she learns to accept death and move on with her life. Too bad that she didn’t accept the fact early on that the screenplay was pretty much dead on arrival and move on to something else herself.