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Friday, November 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
"P.S.": Lovely Linney is reason enough

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

NEW MARKET FILMS
"P.S." is contrived, but Laura Linney is stunning as an unfulfilled woman who thinks an old dead love has returned in the body of a graduate student.
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"P.S." is a mystifyingly strange movie with a lovely performance at its center; like a pearl hiding within a misshapen, grayish oyster. That performance belongs to Laura Linney, heiress-apparent to Meryl Streep — a generation younger, she has Streep's patrician blond elegance, versatility and sharp-eyed intelligence. Would that her eyes had been a little sharper when she read this screenplay, which can't seem to make up its mind whether it's a romantic comedy, a drama or a psychological thriller and settles for being an odd — and unbelievable — hybrid of all three.

Dylan Kidd, who made his debut with the prickly tale of a misogynist, "Roger Dodger," a couple of years back, knows he has a treasure of a leading lady here, and the movie begins with a loving close-up of her face as she dons makeup, preparing for the day. Linney is Louise Harrington, a divorced admissions officer at Columbia University's School of Fine Arts. She has a requisite ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne, whose blue eyes match Linney's), a best pal (Marcia Gay Harden), a comfortably tasteful Manhattan apartment, a mom (Lois Smith) in the 'burbs and a sense that life has passed her by.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

**
"P.S.," with Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Rudd, Lois Smith. Directed by Dylan Kidd, from a screenplay by Helen Schulman and Kidd, based on the novel by Schulman. 105 minutes. Rated R for language and sexuality. Crest.

Enter F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, laid-back and funny) — or, rather, enter his graduate-school application on Louise's desk. He shares a name, and a painting style, with Louise's former love, a young man who had died in an accident 20 years earlier. What does Louise do? She calls F. Scott, arranges a personal interview, slips into a cleavage-baring dress and seduces the fellow, who seems quite pleased with this particular form of higher education. "I'm loving this executive recruitment thing," he says post-seduction, a kid in a very grown-up candy store.

So, is he the real F. Scott? Will best pal Missy steal him away, like she did last time? Does anyone care that Louise's ex-husband is a sex addict? And will Louise call up Nicole Kidman, who was trapped in a strangely similar plotline in "Birth," for pointers?

It's mildly distressing to watch a serious movie in which a lovely 39-year-old is fixated with being over the hill, and it's downright depressing to see a depiction of women's friendship that seems entirely based on cat-fight competition. But Linney not only maintains dignity throughout, she gives the movie a sense of purpose — it exists so we can watch her, emotions flickering across her pale face.

There's a lovely little moment in the seduction scene, when Louise suddenly shoots F. Scott a tight-lipped smile of affectionate, almost maternal encouragement — as if she's just realized that she's the grown-up here, setting the tone. Streep couldn't have done it better, and that's no small praise.

P.S.: "P.S." is opening exclusively at the discount Crest Cinema Center, an unusual choice that speaks volumes about the distributor's level of faith in the film. Too bad — despite its flaws, it's a better movie than many that show up on full-price screens.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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