It's a fact of modern movie watching: as bland storytelling becomes more and more ascendant, you have to be on the lookout for clichés. And most of the time, we remember that -- and occasionally lose sight of the fact that there really are no cliché plots, just cliché execution of the moments within those plots. I can't think of a better example of that fact than the new big-budget tear-jerker P.S. I Love You, starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler as a young couple torn apart by untimely death. As P.S. I Love You opens, we witness young married couple Holly (Swank) and Gerry (Butler) fussing, feuding and fighting before they kiss and make up; then, after the credits, we jump ahead to ... Butler's wake. And while that leap is a little brusque, the real indicator of the movie we're in for comes soon after. A priest introduces the playing of Gerry's favorite song, and the opening chords of the Pogues's "Fairytale of New York" fill the air ... and then the song jumps ahead several bars, skips selectively through the verses, and then leaps to the chorus. Really? The music Jerry wanted played at his wake was a clumsily-edited version of a song, cut for no other reason than to move the movie forward faster? This is not playing a character's favorite song; this is cheap manipulation, designed to engage your feelings as swiftly and cheaply as the filmmakers can. And so goes the movie.
I have no objection to a film trying to warm my heart; what I object to is a film trying to microwave it. P.S. I Love You barrages us with high-frequency waves of cheap sentiment, lazy writing, absolute fabrication and only-in-the-movies nonsense, a purely mechanical process designed to make us feel sadness as swiftly as possible, imbuing the sort of emotional heat that, like the hot patches in a microwaved burrito, doesn't really spread through the entire film or endure beyond a few seconds. And I know it's unfair to compare one film to another, but P.S. I Love You is so clumsy that I found myself thinking of far better films about terminal illness (My Life Without Me) or the unexpected loss of a loved one (Truly, Madly, Deeply) not immediately after but, in fact, during the film's agonizingly long dead spots and bland, off-the-rack montages.