Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 09/29/04 02:04:53

"Sometimes A Second Chance Isn't Always The Best Thing"
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It’s known as the sophomore slump. A bright, young filmmaker bursts forth from filmdom’s independent movement and dazzles critics and audiences with an intelligent, alluring debut that signals the coming of a solid new talent. So well-received, the director (and sometimes writer) shoots almost too high to ever achieve a follow-up of such an equal. Mallrats and Poetic Justice are perfect examples of the slump. I pray that Zach Braff can avoid it after the brilliance of Garden State. Dylan Kidd is the latest victim of the jinx, although I suspect he’ll bounce back when he returns to doing his own material.

Laura Linney plays Louise Harrington, a thirty-something admissions officer at New York’s Columbia University. She maintains a friendly relationship with her ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne) but her single life is empty, leaving her to vicariously live through the long-distance exploits of her impetuous best friend, Missy (Marcia Gay Harden). One day she notices an application in her office from F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace). The significance of the name (minus the F.) is that it’s identical to that of high school boyfriend. He’s also an artist, shares the same birthday and strikes an incredible resemblance to her first love. Perhaps his son? No, because he died in a car accident twenty years ago.

Louise can’t help but schedule an immediate interview with him. He’s not the most punctual or organized and presents himself as one those overtly presumptuous lads who talks to people as if they were his fraternity buddies. It doesn’t take long for Louise to welcome him her vagina. Other than the obvious “you go girl” and “right on, dude” attention to their bonding, there isn’t much behind their relationship aside from some solid, unexpected sex.

It’s pretty clear where Louise is coming from. She hasn’t had some good action in quite a time and while some may ethically question her choice of lover, I was waiting around for her to confront the more mystical underpinnings. Fantasy could take or leave this time around and there’s only one Chances Are, except Louise never digs into any universal machinations of why this young man has come into her life.

Louise does get her centerpiece speech, delivered beautifully by Linney, trying to ingrain some harshness about growing old to F. Scott. It’s the mountain peak of the film and recalled Kidd’s frank exchanges of dialogue from his debut, Roger Dodger. P.S. needed more of Dodger’s life mentor-pupil relationship and the awkward urgency of Louise & Scott’s first love scene than the consistent avoidance of what’s on everyone’s mind, a trick that the characters excel in.

Linney continues to grow as both an actress and an attraction in my book, even if her sadder, older woman lusting after a young man indie-cred is beginning to wear thin (You Can Count On Me, Love Actually). Louise seems too smart and emotionally stable enough to still consort with a bitchy rival who screwed her (and others) back in the day. Linney’s Mystic River cohort, Marcia Gay Harden shows up late out of left field to confirm this in an overwritten, almost embarrassing role and HER Miller’s Crossing squeeze, Gabriel Byrne, is underused as Linney’s ex, as is Paul Rudd as Linney’s rehabbing brother. Topher Grace, while fine in the role, is perhaps given the greatest disservice with a part that is really nothing more than a boytoy happy to be getting some great sex.

P.S. starts with an intriguing premise and keeps threatening to break forth into some magical exploration of lost time and memories, but keeps getting pulled back to Earth. The drama never reaches an emotional peak even of a scandalous nature between the August-October couple. They’re only about 20 years apart, so who cares anyway? There are flashes of what P.S. is striving for, but Dylan Kidd seems to be at the expense of another writer’s (Helen Schulman) published weepie rather than the sharp repartee he brought to Roger Dodger. Take a cue from David Mamet who once wrote that “the only second chance we get is the chance to make the same mistake twice.” Now there’s another fascinating approach to Louise left uncharted. Better luck next time. But for your Junior effort, better to make your own luck.

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