Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Continued from the review of The Woodsman

Let’s consider another film that privileges one point of view: that of a woman this time. P.S. has a quirky premise: a middle-aged woman meets a young man whom she believes to be the reincarnation of her dead high school boyfriend. Perhaps this plotline is a bit odd, but the film engaged me completely for at least half the run time. Then I began to disconnect and ask questions about character depth and believability.

The middle-aged heroine, Louise Harrington, is played by Laura Linney: glorious, curvy, and deeply lonely. The main people in her life, including her mother, her best friend, her ex-husband, and her brother, are all people to whom she tries but fails to fully relate. Enter Topher Grace, a.k.a. F. Scott Feinstadt, whom Louise calls F. Scott throughout the film until he admits that his real name is Francis. Sharing the same name, artistic talent, and appearance of her high school boyfriend, F. Scott unwittingly unglues Louise.

Within hours of meeting him, Louise mounts the eager and grateful young man. The scene is rather hot, if awkward (read: realistic). On the hot side, Louise wears an incredibly feminine, bodice-friendly, but clingy pink dress that emphasizes her womanly curves. More awkward, however, the couple pauses in the midst of their foreplay while F. Scott struggles with the condom. After he has finished, Louise somehow manages to keep him going long enough to reach her own climax (what a great trick!).

I have included all these details about their first lovemaking session because the scene intrigues me. Honest and clumsy, with strange silences and gaps—this is not your smooth and perfect Hollywood love scene. In essence, the scene exemplifies why I like this movie—P.S. is a messy film, with glaring flaws, selfish characters, and an inability to accomplish as much as it tries. That said, director and screenwriter Dylan Kidd conveys a certain sincerity that struck me.

Seriously challenging this sincerity, however, Louise’s friendship with Missey is rather inscrutable. As is revealed through the film, Missey stole the original (now deceased) Scott from Louise. She throws Louise’s single status in her face repeatedly, and sets out to bed F. Scott (whether she succeeds is an important plot point in the relationship between Louise and F. Scott). Their dialogue is among the weakest in the film. So why the heck does Louise stay friends with Missey?

Yet when I thought about female friendships, betrayal is not necessarily a foreign concept. Jealousy is a natural human emotion, and perhaps it is unwise for me to condemn the relationship between Missey and Louise as unbelievable just because I do not appreciate the less than positive light thrown on female friendship. Portraying women as complicated and selfish does not = misogyny.

On the other hand, Louise treats F. Scott with complete disregard: he is the character to suffer in this film. Used for his appearance, Louise and Missey stage a battle on the body of F. Scott. Sure, he participates willingly in intercourse with Louise, his admissions counselor. Not generally a smart move for an aspiring student (humorously referenced in F. Scott’s post-coital question, “will this damage my chances?”). Yet F. Scott acts nothing less than completely sincere throughout the film.

Louise, however, betrays tremendous anger, inflicting it upon everyone around her, especially F. Scott, whom she brutally mocks in one bedroom scene. He becomes a tool for screenwriter Kidd to employ to evoke the nuance of Louise’s character and effect her reclamation.

F. Scott never tells us why he likes Louise. He declares that he finds her beautiful and seems flattered by her attention, but why would an incredibly attractive and magnetic young man choose a lonely, older woman for more than an easy lay? If she contributes something more to his life or connects with him on some particular emotional level, P.S. fails to show this from his perspective. As presented in this film, F. Scott’s feelings are only important, in fact, in the ways they bring out aspects of Louise’s character.

In fact, in adopting a fake name, F. Scott denies his uniqueness. He absorbs the meaning imposed on him by the women, to whom the name Scott carries great personal weight and meanin. Like the female love interests in Wimbledon and The Woodsman, F. Scott is a means to an end to shed light on the main character and therefore never becomes a fully developed character.

Oddly, the major emotional weight of the movie falls on the age-old rivalry between the two women rather than the love relationship. (I wonder what focus the source novel employs?) Perhaps this is the real reason why Louise and Missey’s friendship failed to register with me—though their story ultimately drives the events of the film, the narrative does not give their relationship enough screen time.

Perhaps this is also why I could no longer sustain my disbelief halfway through the film: the movie switched its focus from F. Scott to Missey. Kidd confuses his goals: is this a film that develops a love story between a woman and a younger man or one that examines a friendship between two older women?

Love story and friendship aside, Louise remains the heroine of the movie, prompting the question: what do we learn about her? She never recovered from a broken heart in high school. She leads a lonely life, failing to connect with those around her. She works a job in which she is surrounded by artists but does not create any art herself. She is overlooked and relatively empty, spiritually.

So what? Who on earth hasn’t, doesn’t, or isn’t? Should we all find ourselves hot young people who resemble our lost loves? Is this the key towards happiness? Perhaps the film would speak to deeper issues if it gazed upon Louise with less compassion and a more critical eye. The characters in this film (but for F. Scott, who isn’t really a character) are deeply flawed—so why not embrace that more fully?

Scenes cut from the film (thank god for DVD extras) reveal much. In one scene we see how Louise holds no power with the admissions review board. In fact, she is merely a gate keeper but not a decision maker. Seeing her completely disempowered contributes much to understanding why she tries to control F. Scott. She also visits F. Scott in his mother’s home—a scene marvelous for its absurdity and for how it finally shows us the real F. Scott, er, Francis.

Do we take something from this movie, or is it merely a diverting couple of hours? I’m leaning towards the latter, but within the context of my weekend of movie rentals, P.S. gains more resonance. The gender reversals within this film may not always be complimentary, but perhaps simply reversing expectations (she has the power, he submits to her abuse, etc.) reveals just how much these expectations continue to operate in our society.

To be completed in my review of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset


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