Romance rules on the silver screen

Romance films, such as the recent arrival "P.S. I Love You," will ever be with us, always interesting and often arriving with various monikers: date movies, love stories and, of course, chick flicks. The target audience? Women. That would be women who, as the stereotype goes, drag their deeply sighing, reluctant significant other to see said movies. Though a shallow characterization to be sure, there may be a grain of truth to be found in the idea that said guy would rather be home watching "Saving Private Ryan" than sitting through an emotional road trip starring best female buds. These films are, after all, unabashedly for and about women and beg the question as to whether women are more romantic than men, hence are attracted to movies that tug at the heart while negotiating those ubiquitous speed bumps along the roller coaster road to love.

Considering the emotion known as "love," it's been endlessly processed, poured over, and shrunk by shrinks. Some opine that the search for love is merely the search for a part of oneself. Or not. And there are the names given to love's precursor, meaning those initial romantic days and weeks of enthrallment: infatuation, head over heels, chemistry, and that most interesting of emotional states, the crush. Would that be crush, like your heart, your life, your mind is in the grip of vice like forces, turning rational thought into a wet noodle?

The history of love, dating back centuries, finds that love was an emotion best savored from afar. In the Middle Ages, knights were obsessed by fair maidens (often married to someone else) but never considered consummating said attraction, let alone marrying the object of all that pent up desire. There was love and there was marriage. People joined together in matrimony for economic reasons, or to build more powerful alliances. Most marriages were arranged, and chemistry was something best left to the romantics who plied the fringes of the royal court (court-ship?).

Today, despite the dicey track record of love as a basis for anything, it still has legs and it's hard to imagine any other alternative in the lead up to the alter. Of course, if folks were rational, clear-eyed and not besotted, things like personal habits, neatness, flossing, hangout compatibility, employment (or lack thereof), values, interests, athleticism, favorite sports team, night owl or early riser, and in-laws would come into play. All these considerations are discarded in a heartbeat when it comes to love and no to forget that everyone is on his or her best behavior while mulching the garden of new love.

Love is indeed, with few exceptions, universal, and now, centuries later, deeply embedded in the human experience. Hollywood, therefore, spins endless stories about the pursuit of love, the waning of love, and the loss of love, meaning, whoops, the honeymoon is definitely over and it's your turn to vacuum and if you're going to be late, well, text me.

So, what about "P.S. I Love You"? It's all about Holly (Hilary Swank), an emotionally insecure, just-turned-30 woman, living in New York, who is grieving for her much loved husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler), who dies unexpectedly. Somehow, before leaving her, he works out a way to send a steady stream of letters all intended to break the dark hold of loss and get Holly out and about. Each letter has an insistent plan to do something she would never do otherwise. Plus, with his epistles, Gerry is ever-present, not unlike Patrick Swayze in the hugely popular love story, "Ghost."

The problem with "P.S." isn't the idea, though it's a bit of a stretch. It's the casting and the writing. Hilary Swank, who's a two-time Oscar winner, can't seem to do soft, sad, and vulnerable with conviction. In this film she often seems more cranky and self-centered than not. Even when Gerry is alive she's a bit impossible. Perhaps it's not entirely Swank's fault; rather, as is the case in so many movies, it comes down to a wobbly screenplay that never seems to get real traction. Very little about this movie is all that interesting. Even with the solid talent. Kathy Bates, also an Oscar winner, does her best as Holly's Mom, as does Butler portraying her husband in a series of flashbacks. But alas, it would take more than first-string acting to salvage "P.S. I Love You." It would take at least one more rewrite.

Sure "P.S." has its moments. But it does seem a bit flat, not unlike recent contenders that have surfaced in the last several years: "Failure to Launch," "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days," "Message in a Bottle," "The Notebook," "While You Were Sleeping," "My Best Friend's Wedding," and "Sweet Home Alabama." For a romantic film to lift off the screen and grab the audience by the collective heart and squeeze, there has to be, well, heat. And a nifty story.

Films that gave filmgoers shots of emotional adrenaline are "Casablanca," "Titanic," "Love Story," "The English Patient," "Doctor Zhivago," "Gone With the Wind," "Sleepless in Seattle," "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "West Side Story," "Moonstruck," "Pretty Woman," "Notting Hill," "You've Got Mail," "The Way We Were," "Jerry Maguire," "Form Here to Eternity," "Annie Hall," "When Harry Met Sally," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "When a Man Loves a Woman," "It Could Happen to You," "The Graduate," "Bridges of Madison County," "It Happened One Night," "Sense and Sensibility," "The Age of Innocence," "Roman Holiday," "The Wedding Singer," and so many more. To paraphrase the Beatles and Hollywood screenwriters, all you need is love. Plus a job and a dependable car, of course.

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