Dir: Dylan Kidd USA. 2004.103mins.
It was never going to beeasy for New York independent director Dylan Kidd to sustain the motor-mouthedenergy of his sharp, sardonic, stylish debut, Roger Dodger, which netteda shoal of awards (including the Lion of the Future award in Venice two yearsago), before going on to become a small arthouse hit.
Surprising the critics byfollowing up with a romantic comedy is one way to shrug off the burden ofexpectation; but as the end credits roll on P.S., one can't help feelingthat the bitter urban satire of Roger Dodger was a better vehicle forthe director's considerable talent.
Of course, Kidd being Kidd,P.S. is no Love, Actually (though Laura Linney features in both).This is an offbeat romance that plays clever games with the canonic scriptrules. The frustrated, lovelorn older woman gets her sexy, devoted younger manwithin the first 15 minutes - and the steamy sex scene is served up as an horsd'ouevre, rather than the traditional dessert.
But despite these arthousepirouettes and Linney's bravura performance, P.S. comes across as a notentirely satisfying hybrid, a romance that is too quirkily mannered to pleasethe someday-my-prince-will-come brigade, and not street-smart enough for thosewho were turned on to Kidd by his debut.
Theatrical prospects arestrongest in the urban centres of sophisticated European territories and on theUS indie circuit, but P.S. will not generate the strong word-of-mouthbuzz of Roger Dodger, and auxiliary revenues may be disappointing. PS,which opened Critics' Week at Venice, next enjoys a Special Presentation atToronto.
Louise Harrington (Linney)is a divorced 39-year-old admissions officer at the Fine Arts department ofColumbia University, who spends her days replying to budding artists with "weregret to inform you" letters, and her nights mostly alone; she's the kind ofIvy League girl who wears a black beret and black shawl - in mourning, perhaps,for her lost youth and the road-killed artist lover that went with it.
When she sees anapplication from a young artist with almost the same name and exactly the sameturn of phrase as Lost Love, Louise calls him in for an interview - anddiscovers that F.Scott (Topher Grace) looks like him too.
Within hours, they haveembarked on a passionate affair; but this is where the problems start, asLouise tries to deal both with this return from the dead and her own apparentinability - as her perfidious best friend Missy (Marcia Gay Harden) puts it -to let anything good happen to her.
In P.S., Kidd andhis cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay jetison the fast-paced, mostly handheldcamerawork of Roger Dodger for a more conventional, self-consciouslyframed look that sometimes works (as in the nicely awkward main sex scene,filmed almost entirely from nipple-height up). More often, however, it servesonly to accentuate the already static, theatrical feel of some of the scenes,where we can almost read the stage directions and the dialogue veers intoMamet-land.
It's swings androundabouts, though: the chamber drama approach also generates some moments ofreal intensity - mostly in the sparring between the excellent Linney, whoseface runs through the emotions like a speeded-up view of passing clouds, andrising star Grace (soon to be seen opposite Scarlett Johansson and Dennis Quaidin Synergy), who exudes a tough confidence that has us going weak at theknees - when we don't want to slap him.
There are also some defttouches of humour woven into the dramatics, especially in a key scene betweenLouise and former hubby Peter (Gabriel Byrne).
Itall stands as a modest but watchable curio that will divide audiences as itdivided the present reviewer. If nothing else, it makes us hungry for Kidd'snext effort.
Prod co: Hart Sharp Entertainment
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Films
Prods: RobertKessel, Anne Chaisson, John Hart, Jeff Sharp
Scr: HelenSchulman, Dylan Kidd
Prod des: Stephen Beatrice
Main cast: Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden