Starring: Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Dylan Kidd
DYLAN Kidd’s P.S. is based on Helen Schulman’s novel of the same name, but what appears to have been the secret of the book’s success, its fantastical storyline, feels merely artificial on screen.
Laura Linney plays Louise Harrington, an admissions officer at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts, whose life is in stasis.
Attractive, intelligent, lonely, and in her late thirties, Louise’s closest friend is her ex-husband Peter (Gabriel Byrne), an astronomy professor at Columbia, who much like Louise is struggling to move on.
Dissatisfied with her life, Louise turns to her mother Elie (Lois Smith) for solace.
But relations are strained, as they are with her brother Sammy (Paul Rudd), a recovering drug addict.
Into this limbo, suddenly and miraculously, comes F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, Traffic), a young artist applying for admission to Columbia’s art school who bears an eerie resemblance to Louise’s first love from high school, a young artist who died in a car crash before having the chance to fulfil his potential.
Is this F. Scott the reincarnation of Louise’s lost love, or does he simply have his eye on the main chance?
P.S.‘s fanciful premise is that a woman snagged in the river of time runs between the past and the present and has an affair with her lover who died years earlier.
This is similar to Birth, in which Nicole Kidman plays a young mother whose dead husband may or may not be reincarnated in the body of a 10 year-old boy.
But whereas Birth allows for a suspension of disbelief because of psychological resonance and the depth of characterisations, P.S. founders because fine acting and slick production is not enough.
As Louise, Linney (You Can Count on Me, Mystic River) is dazzling to watch as she conveys a range of complex feelings.
The best moments of the film are Louise’s seduction of F. Scott, her abandonment to passion and his youthful self-possession coupled with his wry understanding of the impropriety of her behaviour.
But what caused Louise in the first place to be so damaged by a boyfriend who at the time of his death had moved on to have an affair with her best friend (Marcia Gay Harden at her bitchy best), is never satisfactorily explained. Neither is the tension between Louise and her mother and brother, or why Peter (played in lacklustre fashion by Byrne) needs a therapist at this stage of his life to explain the cause of his philandering (sex addiction).
Similarly unexplained is why F. Scott would need to go to Columbia University to become a painter, given the quality of the paintings he is already producing.
These omissions make the story glib.
Schulman’s novel either fills in these gaps, or makes such questions redundant, which will leave some viewers reaching for the book.