Hilary Swank doesn’t usually play girlie roles, and the unabashed chick flick “P.S. I Love You” demonstrates why: She’s not very girlie. Her Oscar-winning performances in “Million Dollar Baby” and “Boys Don’t Cry” are proof enough that she’s at her best playing boxers or dudes, not “Sex and the City” types who wear designer clothes and worry about whether their shoes know how much they love them. “P.S. I Love You” even casts Kathy Bates as her mom. I kept expecting them to put on some denim jackets and head down to Home Depot.
Swank plays what obviously should have been the Sandra Bullock part, an uptight, pragmatic woman named Holly with a happy-go-lucky Irish husband named Gerry (Gerard Butler). They are very happy despite their differences, for they are soul mates.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, Gerry dies of a brain tumor. She is inconsolable for several weeks, despite the best efforts of her mother, her married friend Sharon (Gina Gershon), and her single-but-looking friend Denise (Lisa Kudrow). On her 30th birthday, she gets a letter from Gerry, the first of many that he wrote to her before he died and arranged to have delivered regularly after he was gone. This first one urges her to go out and celebrate her birthday with her friends. The next one tells her to splurge on a nice new outfit. Soon enough she and the girls are in Ireland on a trip he paid for, meeting a handsome singer named William (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in a pub, and sleeping with him. (Well, just Holly does.)
It’s supposed to be sweet that Gerry is reaching out from beyond the grave to help Holly get her groove back, and I can see how it would look that way on paper. (The film is based on a Cecelia Ahern novel.) But then you have creepy moments like the one where Holly and William are lying in bed, post-coital, and they start sharing fond memories of Gerry. I don’t care how many letters your dead husband sent you, don’t talk about him when you’re naked in bed with someone else. That’s a pretty basic rule.
Back in New York, Holly starts a tentative friendship with a bartender named Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) who has no filter on his brain and consequently often says outrageous things. (Just like Sophia on “The Golden Girls”!) Connick is good for a few laughs, and so are Gershon and Kudrow, the latter in particular with her character’s shamelessly methodical way of finding new boyfriends. Even Swank, if not exactly a delicate, feminine heroine, exhibits some charming lightheartedness here and there.
But director Richard LaGravenese (who adapted the novel with Steven Rogers) seems content to let the film be nothing more than a generically competent, mildly diverting girls’ night out, with only its slightly unusual premise to separate it from every other chick flick ever made. It’s fitfully amusing, sure, but also overwhelmingly saccharine and manipulative. It aims low and meets its aims. Being a C student is fine if that’s all you can do, but shouldn’t you at least try to do better?
C (2 hrs., 6 min.; )