Holly Kennedy doesn’t know what she’s got in her husband, Gerry, until he’s gone. Their decade-long marriage has been alternately passionate, frustrating, tender and antagonistic. Holly worries that they’ll never achieve financial and professional success. Gerry’s concerned that his wife lives in the future to the point that she misses the present. They both wonder if their marriage will make it. They fight. They make up. They wrestle in bed together. And that’s all before the opening credits get underway.
Cut from those credits straight to Gerry’s funeral. The vigorous Irishman has succumbed to a brain tumor. But knowing that his days were numbered, Gerry planned a year’s worth of surprises for Holly and penned letters to go with each of them—all ending with P.S. I Love You. Enlisting the help of Holly’s girlfriends, Gerry walks his widow through the grieving process—an unpredictable journey that leads all the way from the local gay bar to Ireland and back.
Gerry’s letters to Holly are meant to help her to move on in a healthy way after his death. Though she doesn’t always choose wise ways of following his instructions, the intentions here are good and the letters demonstrate the fact that Gerry’s love for Holly affects her even after he’s gone. He encourages her to remember her young, idealistic, creative self and to go after her unrealized dreams. For her part, Holly recognizes that she was too hard on Gerry while he was living and demonstrates remorse for her meanness after his death. Likewise, after a period of self-pity and self-absorption, she genuinely apologizes to a friend for her selfish behavior.
The fact that Holly’s father left when she was a teenager is taken seriously and shown to have consequences in her adult life. Ultimately, her grief over Gerry leads her to deal with her bitterness toward her father and invest more deeply in her relationship with her mother.
Gerry’s death is discussed in the most vague spiritual terms possible. The priest at his funeral says, “His life may be over for now, but we can still hear it. … He lives on forever in our hearts.” Just one of Gerry’s letters holds a specific reference to his whereabouts. He says that he’s in heaven, and that there are plenty of attractive men waiting there for a single friend who helps Holly. He also says that he’s “eternally grateful—literally,” to Holly for her love.
Holly talks to her late husband out loud and even makes coffee for him. She says she feels like he’s guiding her. Sometimes he shows up bodily, as if his spirit somehow has the ability to hang out with her. In one letter, he tells her that he’ll give her a sign from beyond in relation to a career change.
Holly says to a friend, “I’m trying to figure out why God killed my husband.” The friend reckons she’s being punished for being too happy or too pretty—as if God were searching the universe for happiness to quash.
Before Gerry dies, he and Holly are shown engaged in foreplay. They kiss passionately and peel off layers of clothing until they’re down to their underwear. Gerry does a striptease-type dance in boxers and suspenders. After his death, the fact that she can still sense him near her is depicted by shots of the two snuggling in bed.
But Holly also has a one-night stand with another man after her husband dies. The man’s bare backside is shown. And the two are pictured in bed together covered with a comforter. He tells her that there’s no way Gerry could fault her for the encounter that’s just taken place because it’s all part of living.
Holly’s friend Denise is a real man-eater who knows how to work a room to find an eligible guy. Her strategy for cutting through the small talk is to ask each man she meets up front whether he’s single, straight and employed. If he answers all these to her satisfaction, she kisses him to find out if sparks will fly. Denise feels justified “star[ing] at a man’s backside with cheap, vulgar appreciation,” because she believes that men have a long history of objectifying women.
Under Denise’s tutelage, Holly is encouraged to forget her sadness by partying at a private gay club. They dance with men who also spend time dancing with other men. And Holly is reminded not to go too long after Gerry’s death without having sex—because she gets “b–chy” when she’s “deprived.”
Besides Holly’s girlfriends, her other companion in her grief is Daniel, who works at the pub her mother owns. Daniel is sex-crazed and crass about it, explaining that he once went through a “major hooker phase” and quit only when he ran out of money. He tells Holly that instead of being a shoulder for her to cry on he’d “rather be another body part you need.” He asks her if she’s thought about him in the nude.
Sex is discussed in a dozen other crude ways, including comments about homosexuality, masturbation and sexual positions. Holly is shown twice in just her underwear—once in a bra and tights, once in panties and a bustier. Other times, she’s shown in a short skirt, one outfit that reveals her midriff down to her hip bones and others that show her cleavage.
Holly and a fellow real-estate agent get into a slapping and pushing fight on the job. Holly loses her job as a result. Later, she is shown falling off of a stage. She winds up in the hospital with a bloody and broken nose. In her grief, Holly once says she’s so angry she could kill someone.
Swearing and crude expressions are frequent and varied, including a few uses each of “bloody,” “h—,” “b–tard” and “d–n.” The s-word, “a–” and “b–ch” push the tally up with at least a half-dozen uses each. And misuses of God’s name push it even higher, with 10 or more instances (once in conjunction with “d–n”). Jesus’ name is also abused a handful of times.
Rather than dropping roses in a casket to remember Gerry, guests at his funeral—which is held at a pub—drink shots and give tributes. Holly gets terribly drunk and throws up all over the pub’s supply closet. Several weeks into her grief, her sister thinks more alcohol might be what’s needed. “Are you drunk?” she asks. When Holly answers in the negative, Sis adds, “Do you want to be?” Holly and her friends visit several clubs and share drinks. Wine is served in restaurants. In order to boost her courage in her out-of-wedlock sexual encounter, Holly drinks shots.
Though the overall feel of the movie is that Holly and Gerry’s marriage was a good thing, marriage is not universally respected. Trying to make Holly feel better for her poor treatment of her husband, a friend says, “Married people make each other feel like s— on purpose.” Daniel is straightforward to the point of being tacky and tactless. Instead of owning his rudeness, he says it’s a syndrome for which he can take medicine.
As romantic comedies go, P.S. I Love You deserves credit for departing from the genre’s favorite clichés. The dialogue is sharp and at times genuinely funny. And just when viewers think a big, sappy development is coming, it doesn’t. The story doesn’t resolve neatly—fitting for a film about grief.
Unfortunately, the creative catharsis that could come from watching Holly and her gal pals process Gerry’s death gets overshadowed by sheer worldliness. Bar hopping. A one-night stand. Crass language. And free-flowing alcohol. If you take this film at face value, all of these are a prescription for recovering after an enormous loss. In reality, they’re more likely to lead to depression than cure it.