p.s. (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Dylan Kidd’s directorial debut was Roger Dodger (2002), a brilliant story of a hot New York bachelor who sets out to mentor his nephew resulting in a role reversal, which made my list of ten best films of the year. It was a highly moral tale of a profligate.

His second film is p.s. This time it’s about a woman and, despite the fact that it is again brilliantly directed, it’s morality is the antithesis of the basis of Roger Dodger. Louise Harrington (Laura Linney) is a 39 year old divorcee working in Columbia University’s Admissions Department. She receives an application for admission to graduate school from 24 year old artist F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace), calls him in for an interview, and seduces him almost immediately. We are in the dark as to why Louise is so emotionally attracted to F. Scott until near the end of the movie and I’m not going to spoil it by revealing the reason here.

Suffice it to say, Louise’s relationship with a student applicant is sexual harassment per se. If the situation were reversed, and F. Scott was working for the admissions department and Louise was an applicant 15 years younger, F. Scott’s sexual conquest would be seen as reprehensible. This movie would be about the exploitation of a younger woman by a powerful man. So it should be with the actual relationship in the movie. There’s no justification for an older woman taking sexual advantage of a younger man who is in her power. But there is nothing censorious in the film about Louise’s actions.

I am opposed to product placements in movies. Walmart must have contributed big bucks to the making of Looney Tunes: Back in Action last year, because there was an incomprehensible scene of a big Walmart’s in the middle of a desert. The tobacco companies must have contributed to p.s. because Louise lights up in several scenes. There’s a scene near the end of the film that looks like it came from the ‘40s, when tobacco companies also contributed to films’ budgets to ensure that everyone smoked (remember Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager (1942) when he lights up two cigarettes, one for him, one for her, after making love?). Louise and her best friend, Missy Goldberg (Marcia Gay Harden) both light up. Missy says she’s given it up, but then produces a pack to the evident delight of both. It made my eyes water and throat hurt just to see them blowing smoke into the air. There’s a fulsomeness in any filmmaker who inserts smoking scenes into a movie. Kidd is better than that.

The characters of both Louise and F. Scott are incredible. F. Scott is an applicant to a graduate school that is hard to get into. Yet when Louise calls him to establish contact and tell him she wants him to come in for an interview, he acts as if he is in total control, and speaks to her as if he’s picking her up in a bar. He has far more confidence in himself than a normal person would have in that situation.

Louise’s character is even more unrealistic, a 39 year old professional, intellectually superior woman instantly attracted to someone 15 years her junior. While this might happen and might be many women’s fantasy, the way its presented here one must conclude she’s mentally unbalanced. It’s equally unrealistic to think that a young stud like F. Scott would have the slightest interest in someone who must appear matronly to him. It would make more sense if each were using the other for selfish purposes, but they aren’t.

Everyone in this film has problems. Louise’s former husband, Peter (Gabriel Byrne), is a sex addict. Her brother Sammy Silverstein (Paul Rudd), is a recovering drug addict. Why Louise has Missy as her best friend is a mystery since Missy stole Louise’s boy friend in high school and seems to view Louise as a competitor rather than a friend.

What saves the film is Kidd’s brilliant directing. This guy is a genius. The cinematography and New York City locations are very well done. The acting is terrific, especially Grace. The music (Craig Wedren) is very good. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the script (Helen Schulman, based on her novel of the same name, and Kidd), the moral tone, and the premise.

October 8, 2004

The End