P.S. (2004) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Rudd, Lois Smith
Director: Dylan Kidd
Screenplay: Dylan Kidd (adapted from the novel by Helen Schulman)
Review published February 5, 2005

Dylan Kidd, the writer-director who impressed with his previously acclaimed effort, Roger Dodger, is back again with another smart and interesting drama of a different sort with P.S., adapted from the best-selling novel by Helen Schulman.  Perhaps what's most interesting about the way Kidd has developed the script is that there is an element of extreme coincidence that drives the plot, but he opts not to turn it into a semi-fantasy.  By doing so, the film doesn't transcend into the whimsical romantic comedy it could have easily been, instead going for deeper meanings, real emotions, and somber realizations.  With such an unlikely story for a straight drama, it's a tricky line to tread without becoming unhinged, but Kidd manages to mostly pull it off, thanks to the superb acting by Laura Linney (Kinsey, Love Actually), as well as the solid supporting cast.

Linney plays Louise Harrington, an admissions counselor for the School of Fine Arts at Columbia University, who has lately been feeling stagnant, especially in her love life, approaching 40 and still not in a committed relationship after years of coming out of her divorce with her ex, Peter (Gabrial Byrne, Assault on Precinct 13).  Things take an odd turn when she receives and application from a young painter named F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, In Good Company), which just so happens to be very similar to the name of her high school boyfriend, Scott Feinstadt, also a painter, but one who tragically died in a car accident while still a young man.  With her curiosity piqued, Louise calls in F. Scott for an interview, and sees that he looks very much like her Scott reincarnated, opening up old passions, and making her cross the line from professional to woman in love. 

With such a mystical element smack-dab in the middle of this romantic drama, there is still an air of disbelief to contend with, despite Kidd's best intentions to keep it as real as possible.  It's not entirely successful, as the stripping away of the mystique of the film also loses some of the poignancy that would have resulted.  On the other hand, it does raise interesting questions, many of which aren't exactly resolved during the course of the film, and does give the themes an interesting depth and subtle charm it might otherwise have not had if Kidd had strived to make this a romanticized story on reincarnation.

P.S. explores a woman faced with trying to conform reality into a fantasy, mostly because she wants to believe it so badly, while the young man is so overwhelmed by the woman's intensity, he submits willingly to her desires.  It opens up a world of story possibilities, and is richly developed in character, but as good as it sometimes is, it never really does hit home. Worth viewing for the competency of Kidd's experimental interpretation, as well as for Linney's fine performance, but in the end, while it does try to ignore the fact that is is built around a fantastic coincidence, diminishing it into near ambivalence is the albatross that never allows the story to resonate as much as is warranted in a romance.

Just like the two Feinstadt's, the earlier one into abstracts and the later into realism, Dylan Kidd has opted to paint his portrait of a woman on the brink of despair who is given a second chance at love in the way F. Scott would -- without a trace of the surreal.  Like any realistic portrait, you can appreciate it for the craftsmanship and skill of the artist who painted it, but it doesn't have that beguiling aesthetic quality that keeps you looking at it time and again, with everyone deriving their own meaning as to what it's supposed to represent.  Like any piece of art, whether realistic or abstract, everyone has their own preferences, and some viewers will appreciate the somber realities, while others will wish Kidd had employed a bit more of a fanciful approach.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo