Sometimes the simplest stories are the most poignant, as this plain spoken and affecting movie proves. Hilary Swank is Holly, an uptight New Yorker whom we first meet walking home in a rage, several steps ahead of her baffled husband Gerry (300’s Gerard Butler).
A fight has either been brewing or is about to, and it’s left to Gerry to follow her home and try and extract whatever’s wrong (he does) without having Holly throw something at him in the process (she does).
The fight is about an off the cuff remark to Holly’s family about the couple’s plans for children, and it’s just one bugbear about their relationship that ties Holly in knots and straight away makes the couple feel so real to us, much more than if we’d met them rowing on a lake gazing into each other’s eyes.
The fact is that Holly and Gerry are crazy about each other, so it’s with skilfully managed shock that we’re then transported to a later time to witness Gerry’s funeral after his death from cancer.
As Holly reels and withdraws from work, friends and her family in episodes that are by turns funny, touching and heartbreaking, something strange happens. Gerry sends her a letter telling her to go and buy a new dress, get dolled up and paint the town red with her girlfriends.
Soon after, another one arrives telling her to do something similarly outrageous and enlivening, then another. The instructions range from the frivolous to the grandiose, including a paid-for holiday to his native Ireland to spend time with his parents, friends and heritage. Each one was carefully planned by Gerry during his last months alive to be delivered to her on a particular date, and the end of every letter is signed ‘PS, I Love You’.
That the letters are designed to bring Holly back to life is no surprise, but it’s the sincerity, sensitivity, humour and honesty writer/director Richard LaGravenese uses to depict her re-awakening that is. PS I Love You could easily have been a stupid 90-minute sitcom or a dour misery, but it’s in the sweet spot where life can be either and both all at once.
Despite her talents, Swank is fairly generic as Holly, but the supporting cast is so stellar you hardly notice. Her best friends are played by Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow in another priceless performance, and her mother with gentle, wise humility by Kathy Bates.
It won’t be for everyone, but everyone who sees it will get something out of it. Like 2005’s In Her Shoes, it’s a chick flick that almost perfectly encapsulates so many things about life and all its idiosyncracies.