The two we care about are Louise (Laura Linney) and F. Scott (Topher Grace), an admissions officer at Columbia University and a prospective student, respectively. Their relationship hangs on a fascinatingly awkward hook: F. Scott is the spitting image of Louise's long-ago first love (now deceased): in body, mind, soul, and some other ways that are even harder to fake, like handwriting. Louise, a lonely divorcee, latches onto F. Scott's eerie familiarity. F. Scott, as a young man, latches onto Louise's cautious older-woman hotness.
When they do have sex together, rather quickly, it feels like an act of possession -- spontaneous and not sleazy. It's key that we never actually see the departed boyfriend for ourselves. The best part of Linney's performance is how we can somehow glimpse F. Scott's uncanny resemblance in her eyes.
Meanwhile, Grace lets us see F. Scott for himself -- and where he intersects with the man Louise has been missing. Their juxtaposition of discovery and regret is beguiling. A lot of that comes from Grace (That '70s Show), who is almost appallingly charming here -- if a sitcom star makes the successful transition to feature film roles about once a decade, then an entire network's worth of cast members must be about ready to murder Topher Grace. He's played many of the same notes so far -- the sweet wiseass is a speciality -- but he fits into the skewed warmth of Kidd's writing perfectly.
So Linney and Grace are fine; I'd gladly spend several movies with them. But the other people in P.S. do not inspire similar devotion. There aren't that many other characters, either: There's Louise's ne'er-do-well brother (Paul Rudd), vivid but superfluous in his short scenes; and there's Gabriel Byrne as Louise's ex-husband, giving what has become a trademark Byrne performance (spend five or ten minutes looking annoyed at lack of character development, then get tired). Not interesting, but not a distraction.
In fact, I must admit that most of the supporting-cast problems with P.S. can be boiled down to Marcia Gay Harden. She plays Louise's longtime best friend, and for the third or fourth time in a row, Harden gives a broad and cartoonishly irritating performance -- she's not even irritating in a well-drawn way. Her character impedes the film's development, creating "plot" where one is not necessary by sheer force of personality.
Both of Kidd's films have the richness and simplicity of a short story (surprisingly, P.S. is based on an entire novel), with an indie film's deft ability to spin such brevity into a satisfying 90 minutes. But the extra characters in P.S. give the impression that even less would've been even more. When Louise and F. Scott are together, it's like they're the only two people in the world (three, tops). After a few obstacles, we're thinking: If only.
The DVD adds an audio commentary and five deleted/extended scenes.
P.S. Recast your film.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 10th February 2005
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: Newmarket Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Dylan Kidd
Starring: Laura Linney as Louise Harrington, Gabriel Byrne as Peter Harrington, Lois Smith as Ellie Silverstein, Paul Rudd as Sammy Silverstein, Topher Grace as F. Scott Feinstadt, Becki Newton as Rebecca
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