P.s.

on October 15, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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Louise (Laura Linney) is a divorcee in her late 30s who works as the admissions director at Columbia University's School of Arts. She's pretty, intelligent and successful, but, much like her quiescent artistic aspirations, her social life consists of having lunch every day with her ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne), who teaches on campus. One day while vetting freshman candidates, she runs across an application from one F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace). That this potential student has neglected to include slides of his work and that he shares a name with her high-school sweetheart, also an artist who died in an automobile accident 20 years before, actuates an unusual personal interview. The similarities are eerie: F. Scott not only bears an uncanny resemblance to her first love, but he shares the same colloquial phrases, tendency to be late and artistic temperament. Against her better judgment, she gives in to nostalgia, and the star-crossed lovers embark on a torrid affair.

But this is just the first layer of drama in a screenplay by director Dylan Kidd ("Roger Dodger") and Helen Schulman, the author of the novel on which the film is based, that peels back character revelations like the skin of an onion, thereby constantly raising the stakes. The success of the narrative's nuance lies in the performances of the cast, and it's worth noting that, for at least two of the key players, "P.S." signals a marked departure from their previous oeuvre. As Louise's best friend Missy, Marcia Gay Harden, who's too often cast as dowdy (think "Mona Lisa Smile," "Casa de los Babys" or "Mystic River"), here vamps it up as a middle-aged tart, and she's stupendous as usual, tingeing Missy's bravado with hints of sadness and desperation, her cruelty with empathy. Meanwhile, Grace, who has launched his nascent career as the skinny boy next door, here transforms into a sex symbol with murky motivations. At the core of the story, of course, is Linney, who alternates deftly between the vulnerability of a spinster and the authority of an experienced woman capable of callously manipulating the emotional milieu of her much younger lover. The result is a portrait of love that acknowledges its complexity. Starring Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Rudd and Lois Smith. Directed by Dylan Kidd. Written by Dylan Kidd and Helen Schulman. Produced by Robert Kessel, Anne Chaisson, John Hart and Jeff Sharp. A Newmarket release. Romantic drama. Rated R for language and sexuality. Running time: 97 min

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