I chose to watch the movie P.S. I Love You on a day when I felt like absolute crap. I had the kind of bone deep, all-encompassing fatigue that made me wonder if I’ve always needed a nap after walking to the bathroom. And, if so, why I never noticed how inconvenient it is before. It was the kind of fatigue that leaves my brain cells too sluggish and soggy to process complex thoughts. The kind of day that’s perfect to watch something entertaining-but-not-too-challenging. (Yes, for sure, this is most of my days lately because chronic migraine is, and I cannot state this strongly enough, a real fucker of disease.) Times like this I often choose Romantic Comedies because, while they are based on outdated gender norms and a highly patriarchal structure, they are also, to me, very enjoyable and comforting in their formulaic pursuit of light humor, romance, and Genetically Blessed Faces™. (I love when people complain that a Romantic Comedy is predictable. I haven’t checked, but do people also complain that superhero or action movies are predictable? Isn’t it like complaining that someone got killed in a murder mystery? Whatever. I’m getting off topic.) The point is, I chose this movie so I could be gently entertained. My expectations were moderate to low. I didn’t notice that this movie had a 7.0 rating on IMDB and 39 on Metacritic, which breaks my usual rules for choosing a Romantic Comedy. Perhaps this should have given me pause, and I wish it had because, dear reader, this was a boring, time-suck of movie that I only finished because I was too tired to spend time finding something less dreadful to watch. To be fair, the movie is billed in some places as a tragedy romance movie, but, nope. Still boring. Still not good. Still unsettling.
Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler with an Irish instead of Scottish accent) are supposed to be a mostly happy couple who got married super young and are now living in New York City’s Lower East Side. Sure, they argue viciously about whether to have children and whether they have enough money, but they’re in love. Deeply and madly is what we’re supposed to believe from the one scene where we see them argue and then make up, giggling as they fall into bed together. (I don’t actually buy it, but I also don’t care that much.) Then Gerry dies of a brain tumor. Oh, you read that right. But we don’t see him sick or dying. It cuts from them cavorting in bed to Gerry’s wake with only a few minutes of credits in between. You know how sometimes in trying to create mystery and intrigue, people just create confusion and chaos? Kind of like when a five-year-old tries to tell a joke? That’s what this feels like.
Anyway, Holly descends into severe depression, as one would expect after losing a husband, and shuts herself off from her family and friends to watch old movies and immerse herself in Gerry’s things. She hallucinates him in the apartment. It’s confusing and I still don’t really care except that neither of them are really appealing characters, which is surprising because they’re both appealing actors. Then Holly’s friends and family show up to surprise her on her thirtieth birthday and they’re shocked to find her surrounded by old food and trash. Really? What did they think she was doing when she wasn’t leaving the house or answering their phone calls? Learning to crochet from YouTube videos? Wait. Did we do that in 2007? That’s the least of our troubles because a cake shows up that says, “Happy Birthday My Love. Love, Gerry.”
Look, I feel that we’re at a point where two roads diverge in the woods of this mediocre movie. Down one road is the idea that this and all that comes after is the height of a posthumous romantic gesture. The last selfless act by a dying man for his one true love. Down the other road, the only road taken by me, is the idea that what lies ahead is the creepy and controlling contrivance of a man perhaps insecure in his relationship. If you want to take the first one, then stop reading and go watch the movie. I won’t stop you, but I will note that it is a full two hours long, and it feels more like seven lifetimes. Take that road at your own risk. Otherwise, come on a journey with me, which will take no more than a thousand words and save you all those lifetimes of misery.
Before we get into it, let me just say that Hilary Swank took a lot of heat for being miscast in this movie, but I’d argue that in a cast of several well-known, well-regarded actors (Kathy Bates and Harry Connick, Jr. also star in it) the only one who is appealing in her role is Lisa Kudrow as Denise, one of Holly’s best friends. She shamelessly works the room at Gerry’s wake in search of a man, asking potential targets, “Are you single? Are you gay? Do you work?” When she finally meets a guy who meets all her criteria she kisses him, then shrugs, makes a face, and walks away without another word. (There are several moments in the movie that lean toward making homosexuality into a kind of joke, which was sometimes seen as a way of acceptance back in the Dark Age of 2007. It’s uncomfortable to watch in 2020.) Later, when someone tries to give her a hard time for commenting on a man’s ass, Denise says, “Let me be clear, after centuries of men looking at my tits instead of my eyes and pinching my ass instead of shaking my hand, I now have the divine right to stare at a man’s backside with vulgar, cheap appreciation. If I want to.” I would like to travel back in time and convince someone to make a movie about Denise instead of Holly and Gerry.
But, sadly, there is no time machine. So here we are with a cake from a dead man and also a microcassette player with a recording of Gerry explaining how there will be a series of letters arriving because he just couldn’t say goodbye yet, which, What?!? And, not to put too fine a point on it, but Gerry is dead. So whether he was ready or not he had to say goodbye. She’s the one who is going to have to figure out how to grieve. She’s the one who is going to wish she could speak to him just one more time. She’s the one who likely isn’t going to be ready to let go. The only thing I can conclude is that he wasn’t ready to let go of control of Holly’s narrative. The whole thing with the tape is supposed to be about how he knows her so well that he can predict what her reactions will be to the things he says from beyond the grave. I guess that’s a cute parlour trick and all, but what I couldn’t stop thinking about is how no one can foresee how someone will react to grief. (How will these letters show up, anyway? We eventually find out, but it doesn’t make it any less creepy that people are pulling the strings on dead Gerry’s behalf. If the whole thing had freaked Holly out, whose wishes would they have honored? Hers or his?) I remember when my dad died how people kept telling me I needed to grieve right away or else it would catch up with me later, like I was a grief-soaked sponge and that needed to be wrung out all at once or I would get all moldy. People grieve in their own time and their own ways and the idea that we can presume to know exactly how someone will cope after we’re gone is verging on narcissistic. Anyway, no one in this movie listens to me (and you can be sure I was actually yelling at them as if they could), so letters start showing up periodically that send Holly on different adventures, which are supposed to help her cope with her loss and move toward her future. You know what else is good for that? Therapy.
In one of the letters (I will spare you recounting all ten of them), Gerry tells Holly he has gotten her and her two best friends a trip to Ireland where he has planned the entire itinerary. I mean, what?!? And also, ew. And furthermore, NOPE! Look, maybe I’m just not romantic when it comes to the idea of grand gestures from my dead husband (I mean, I’m not. We’ve already established that.), but first of all, from where did the money come for this trip? If they are always squabbling over money did it really make sense for him to go behind her back to spend their money on a trip she may or may not have wanted? Didn’t she notice a solid chunk of their savings suddenly disappeared? What if she didn’t want to go to his homeland and instead wanted to go to, I don’t know, Iceland? Or get a new apartment? Or upgrade their cable plan? Or buy a whole grief wardrobe? What then? But I was not a consultant on this movie, so she goes to Ireland where (spoiler) she bangs an Irish man (played by a very American Jeffery Dean Morgan) who is kind of a dead fucking ringer for Gerry (who was the only man she had previously been with) and just-so-happens to have been in his band, which she doesn’t realize until after she sleeps with him. But wouldn’t you remember the guy who played in a band with your husband and also looked just like him? Also, no one acknowledges that any of this is super weird or problematic. It’s just supposed to be cute. (He is actually physically cute and you do get to see him momentarily naked.)
Whatever. All of these adventures are leading up to when (all the spoilers) Holly is back home and still struggling because now one best friend is pregnant and the other is getting married when suddenly one of Gerry’s suspender clips falls onto her shoe and she realizes that her true calling is to design shoes. No, I am not joking.
I just… I don’t know what else to say, you guys. Look, maybe if the whole thing had been reimagined as a psychological thriller I would have been into it?
P.S. I didn’t even get into the unsettlingness of Harry Connick, Jr.’s character who goes on a whole rant about his ex-fiance leaving him for a woman and “hookers.” I care about you so much that I thought it best to spare you.
P.P.S. There is word that a sequel is in the works, which makes me think a lot of people must strongly disagree with my take on this movie.
P.P.P.S. I need a nap.