Louise Harrington (Laura Linney) spends an afternoon meeting with her ex-husband, Peter (Gabriel Byrne), signing letters to applicants refusing them a place in Columbia University's School of Fine Arts and staring out at the events in the main courtyard outside of her office. Life, she feels, is not only p.s.ing her by but already has done, with romance, love and the touch of another person being things that she has long resigned herself to never experiencing again. But then she receives an application form, one from F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace), who shares his name with a young artist who dated Louise in her teens but who died in a car accident before their graduation. Her interest piqued, she reads Scott’s letter of application, finding that he uses the same phrasing as her high-school sweetheart and calls him at him, inviting him for an interview, more to meet him than to immediately offer him a place. Leaving work, Louise drives to her family home where she spends an afternoon in her room looking through a small cardboard box of memories from the short time that she had with Scott.
Meeting F. Scott Feinstadt in the next few days and looking over slides of his work, Louise is shocked when he almost runs out of the building. Following him, she invites Scott for a further talk on the university and the school of Fine Arts but rather than a coffee, she, unwisely or not, takes him to her apartment. There, on the sofa, the two of them share a bottle of wine and fuck, after which the two of them become romantically involved. But happy though Louise is and in spite of the feelings that she has for Scott, her friends begin to question her motives in the relationship and, in time, so too does she.
And ‘fuck’ is probably the right word. Too often sex scenes in films are there for no more reason than to offer a shot of an actress’ breasts or an actor’s arse to perk up an audience who might have been feeling bored and in need of a release. They are often inconsequential to the plot and can frequently be considered as a brief aside before the story returns to normal. This, on the other hand, is desperate sex, initiated by someone who is making up for the years that she spent mourning the death of Scott and who, it later transpires, was married to a man with an addiction to sex but who, as far as their time together was spent, claimed celibacy. Without any nudity - Laura Linney keeps her dress on throughout - there is also equally little tenderness. An opportunity arises and Louise Harrington, probably against her better judgement, grabs it as she might a cigarette. There isn't, as far as one can tell, any enjoyment, simply a need to fuck and when it’s over, no shared moments together. Instead, they agree to call and to meet again but, for Louise, those few minutes on the sofa are suitably explosive after almost twenty years of disappointment may well be enough.
What we have in p.s. is a film that couldn't be described as a romance, despite it being portrayed as a love story that lasts beyond death in the press and on the back of the DVD case. Instead, it concerns itself more with the feelings of desperation that loneliness can cause and how easily addiction may spring from them. In addition to the sex addiction claimed by Louise’s ex-husband, her brother Sammy Silverstein (Paul Rudd) is a drug addict now in a rehab programme whilst Louise finds herself comforted by feeling miserable. Sammy even tells her at one point that, "...asking the universe for pity is a waste of time. The universe doesn't care!" Unfortunately, this little pep talk doesn't quite snap Louise out of her slump but such is the oddest thing about p.s., being the manner in which she appears defeated in one scene before showing an effortless confidence in another. What appears to bring about this transformation in Louise is dependent on whether or not she's with F. Scott Feinstadt. With him, she's sure of herself but when she is separated from him, such as when she is with her family, her ex-husband or with her best friend Missy, she looks drab wears her depression for all to see.
In such a film, what will carry it for the viewer is whether or not they believe in Laura Linney's playing of Louise Harrington. Admittedly she is very good but this viewer found it unconvincing and lacking a lightness until Missy (Marcia Gay Harden) arrives but, by then, it's much too late to make a real difference. Instead, we have too much of Linney brooding over Topher Grace's F. Scott Feinstadt without ever making her realising that this young boy is not the reincarnation of her college sweetheart explicit. Missy, on the other hand, flits between treating Feinstadt as a ghost from the p.s. and as a young stud with whom to have a little fun with. Then again, it may be that Feinstadt is using both women to secure a place at Columbia and in spite of his obvious talent as an artist, uses Harrington's seduction of him as backup. One doesn't always need a straightforward conclusion but some light and shade does help. Unfortunately, with the film's focus on Harrington and Feinstadt - Topher Grace has some dreadfully cliched lines to read in his playing of a young artist - one begins to feel like Sammy, who cracks and tells Louise that dignity is a choice. In time, one longs to tell Louise to simply buck up but it's not until the end that p.s. resolves itself, much too quickly as it happens, making the 94-minute running time much too long in comparison. Without the bustle of company, one spends much too long with Harrington and Feinstadt alone and despite the interesting premise, p.s. is a disappointment.
p.s. comes with a transfer typical of Tartan, looking good but without anything that makes it a great transfer. To be fair, the film is quite flat with the frequent use of dull apartments and college offices doing p.s. no favours, with the picture not really coming to life until it finds Missy in an expensive suite in an upmarket hotel. As such, one is reticent to blame Tartan too much as there's clearly a limit to what the could have done but it could have been sharper and had more detail in the backgrounds, which is their doing. Similarly, the DD5.1 and DTS tracks are, on this low-key film, somewhat unnecessary. The DD2.0 would have been perfectly fine as the use of the surrounds does nothing for the film other than add a little presence to the soundtrack but little else. Finally, it's worth noting that there are so subtitles on this feature.
Other than a set of trailers, the only bonus feature is a Commentary featuring director Dylan Kidd and DoP Joaquín Baca-Asay, which is an informal affair but which also avoids any explanation of the film in favour of behind-the-scenes chatter. Hence, the viewer/listener will hear much talk in praise of Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Marcia Gay Harden and Gabriel Byrne, who actually turns in the same weatherbeaten performance that's been in stock in trade for many a year now, as well as the various members of the crew who go unnamed.
There is also a Trailer (2m12s) for this film and a selection of other trailers for 36 (2m00s), The King (2m07s), The Proposition (2m10s) and The Devil And Daniel Johnston (2m11s).