Gerald Butler's character dies in the first 10 minutes of "P.S. I Love You." His name was Gerry Kennedy and he was a loving husband to Holly (Hilary Swank), until a brain tumor cut short the young urbanites' fun nights out on the town, their tensions over not having either money or babies and - saddest of all - their awkward-looking make-up sex.
Given that the film's target audience is women, killing off Butler seems a foolhardy choice by director Richard LaGravenese, who helped adapt the screenplay, based on Cecelia Ahern's novel. Surely, most women would opt to watch the "300" star bringing on the hotness over Swank moping. And no offense to Harry Connick Jr., but when he shows up as a new romantic interest ogling the widow Kennedy at Gerry's wake (yuck), I thought, Why couldn't HE play the dead one?
But LaGravenese ("Freedom Writers"), who also wrote the script for that weep fest "The Bridges of Madison County," is cagier than that. Butler is his deadly weapon, brought back to ooze impossible charm in flashbacks. In his dying days, Gerry wrote a series of peppy letters to be delivered to Holly throughout her mourning period.
They encourage her to rebuild her life, although, curiously, mostly he urges her to go buy herself a nice outfit. That's the last thing this girl needs. She already has a closet full of designer clothes and she's unemployed for, as best we can tell, 98 percent of the movie.
Maybe Gerry had good life insurance. Not that practical matters like income are usually the purview of films aimed straight at the same romantic, forgiving moviegoers who made "The Notebook" a hit.
"P.S. I Love You" is manipulative, too long and loaded with the bizarre stereotypes of so-called women's movies, from the sassy, "loose" best friend (played here by Lisa Kudrow in mean-Phoebe mode) to the obligation of the heroine to be physically clumsy.
Yet I can't deny that some tears were jerked - perhaps the real definition of a tearjerker is a movie that makes you feel like a jerk for crying - or that there wasn't a handful of nice moments in this chick flick. Kathy Bates, as Holly's disapproving mother, got my tears flowing. Swank's not much of a romantic lead - LaGravenese makes her spend an inordinate amount of time in her underwear, in an unsuccessful effort to counter her tough-girl image - but in a pair of scenes that would have been dead on arrival in lesser hands, she delivers some real emotion.
Or maybe I just felt sorry for any woman, even fictional, who never gets to kiss Gerard Butler again. *
Produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Wendy Finerman, Molly Smith and Broderick Johnson, directed by Richard LaGravenese, written by Richard LaGravenese and Steven Rogers, music by John Powell, distributed by Warner Bros.