Portraying Love Honestly: Where ‘P.S. I Love You’ Succeeds and Stumbles

Love is probably the most common theme in media, and I do mean all mediums. Movies, books, sonnets, music, tattoos, documentaries, children’s drawings, slideshows, art exhibits — you name it, and there will be a plethora of material attempting to portray love. I remember a Sandwich Artist at Subway telling me how her tattoo of what looked like a 16-bit RPG sprite was actually her wedding ring. The character in the tattoo was holding a big sack that started at the woman’s forearm and wrapped around her finger. Pain and permanent ink, how’s that for love? I don’t think I can come up with a better analogy.

Though, what is love? What are its quantitative and qualitative features? Are there different types of love, different amounts? Is love different throughout cultures, or are there certain traits found around the globe? Can love exist without your being aware it’s there?

Furthermore, every story about love is slanted, no matter how much the writer aims for neutrality. There is no fair and balanced reporting when it comes to passion and feelings. The existence of the story itself tells the reader that the topic being discussed is worth paying attention to. As the saying goes, “the news doesn’t tell you what to think, it tells you what to think about.”Anyone talking about actual love will have a lot to say about the topic, since sentiment can never be fully removed.

However, with real love comes the full gamut of emotions. Rage occasionally pops up in long-term relationships. Strong feelings can turn into strong irritants. Starting off as fat and content in your relationship can devolve into your being bloated with contempt for short periods, then returning to content. The full story is what’s intriguing.

No doubt, a major component of love is the relationship in which it exists. The features of it include: how you treat one another; how you feel about one another; how you function as a team versus how you function, think, and feel as an independent person; why you continue to be together and why you chose this one person out of everyone on the planet.

Now that I’ve destroyed romance with critical analysis, let’s discuss the romantic tragicomedy, or dramedy, or rom-com-dram, P.S. I Love You. The film is named after either the eponymous Bette Midler or Beatles song, more on that in a minute, and based off of a book written by then 21-year-old Irish author, Cecelia Ahern.

P.S. I Love You is about a young widow, Holly, who loses her husband, Gerry, to cancer. Gerry, however, has left a series of letters for Holly, helping her through the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, or DABDA — and allowing her to come to terms with his death. Gerry shows Holly, from beyond the grave, that he remains in her heart, and eases her into a new stage of her life, one without him. Through the biggest storm of her life, Holly has a beacon in the distance, and that is where love is.

P.S. I Meh You

I am tearing up just thinking about it, yet I’m about to subject myself to watching this on Valentine’s Day. The film is a beautiful tragedy, very Irish, which I say with reverence, having predominantly Irish heritage. I first watched this movie with my mother in the theater, and there were definitely waterworks. Though the movie came out more than 5 years after his passing, Dad was definitely on our minds as we went with Holly through her journey. My dad also died of cancer, metastasized Melanoma, on May 1, 2002, so our wounds were still fairly raw and open. You really do feel like a part of your essential being is gone when a loved one dies, like your heart has been drained and all that’s left is a crumpled husk.

Regardless of our pain, or perhaps because of it, we both loved the movie. It was funny, tragic, lively, and fairly honest in its depiction of love and loss. It also had a lot of good music.

I’m definitely getting overly sentimental here, so let’s dive into the analysis.

Gerry with Holly

Gerry’s ghost stays with Holly for a year after his death, not haunting her so much as guiding her towards the next chapter of her life.

First off, the title. Well, Gerry is a musician, and the song does get played in the movie. As a matter of fact, the plot seems to be taken straight from the Beatles’ song, though it is the Bette Midler song that is sung in the film. Take a look at the Beatles one and tell me this wasn’t a direct inspiration:

As I write this letter
Send my love to you
Remember that I’ll always
Be in love with you

Treasure these few words ’till we’re together
Keep all my love forever
P.S., I love you
You, you, you

I’ll be coming home again to you, love
And ’till the day I do, love
P.S., I love you
You, you, you

As I write this letter
Send my love to you
Remember that I’ll always
Be in love with you

Treasure these few words ’till we’re together
Keep all my love forever
P.S., I love you
You, you, you

As I write this letter
Send my love to you
(You know I want you to)
Remember that I’ll always
Be in love with you

I’ll be coming home again to you, love
And ’till the day I do, love
P.S., I love you
You, you, you
You, you, you
I love you

Artists frequently take inspiration from other artists’ work, along with their own life experiences, so there’s nothing wrong here. All the lyrics are fairly straightforward, used literally in the film without much nuance.

Likewise, some common themes in Irish literature, which I found in the anthology Irish Girls Are Back In Town, featuring another story by Ahern, show up in this film. Love, death, loss, magic, ghosts, being haunted by your past — literally and figuratively, reminiscing, and music. From the Emerald Isle, where two sects of Christianity have been at each other’s throats forever (The Protestants and Catholics, i.e. The imperial English and native Irish), these themes make sense, as events over there have often played out like a European country song.

Overall, the ideas and topics addressed in this movie are far from original, but they are important. Life, death, struggle, and love: these are the things that matter most in life.

So, finally, let’s get down to the the nitty-gritty of what this film gets right about love, loss, relationships, romance, companionship, and family, and what deserves to be returned to sender.

Honest Depictions of Love and Life

  • Women will get angry for perceived slights or insinuations and read into subtleties. I don’t want to overgeneralize or focus specifically on heteronormative relationships or roles, but this does happen a lot. A woman can analyze 15 layers of meanings in one subtle comment or gesture, and the man may be paying attention. Call it females having sharper perception, our tendency to overthink things, our being use to other females meaning various things even when only speaking a few words, or our being paranoid. Whatever it is, this does happen occasionally. Women’s analytical skills tend to be on all of the time. Sometimes guys can be slow to pick up context clues and subtleties, and need things spelled out. Women do it, too; it all depends on the people involved and the particular circumstances. But, yes, misunderstandings and overreactions happen. Thus is life. We do communicate differently. For example, if my cat, Gracie, wants something from me, she comes over and looks at me. If she wants something from Nick, she’ll grab or bite him. That is also how they play. If Gracie were to try that with me, everyone would run away, anticipating the fallout. Sure, she sits on or by both of us and meows, but she knows we pick up on different things, which is the diplomatic way of saying Mommy is usually 20 steps ahead of Daddy. (*Edit* Soon after I wrote this, the cat bit me. Granted, it was the same old fight we always have: I wanted to pick her up, Grumpy Puss was telling me “no” via annoyed meow, and I tried anyway. Things have smoothed over since, and I gave her a couple of slices of olives, which she loves.)
  • Throwing shoes, throwing anything. Yeah, yeah I’ve done that.
  • A fight can burst out and be about many different issues. Usually, one thing is the last straw when tension has been building for awhile
  • Reality isn’t “sexy and charming.” Poverty sucks, unemployment sucks, health problems suck. Having someone else to suffer alongside makes it easier, and can make the struggle feel a little more worth it.
  • Cancer can happen at any age. Just figure I should throw that in here. Keep yourself healthy, and do the health checks you’re supposed to for prevention and early detection. The sooner you find it and treat it, the better your odds of surviving.
  • Gerry does kind of look like a leprechaun. It’s odd, especially since Gerard Butler is Scottish, but there’s something about his face and hairstyle in this that makes him look like he has a pot of gold stashed nearby.
  • Money is the number one thing couples fight about. There’s never enough, and figuring out what to deprive yourself of or indulge in is a difficult balancing act, especially when someone else figures into the equation.
  • A true love is your friend, someone you tell everything to. You often oversharing with each other. For example, bodily functions are a frequent topic of discussion. You’re honest with each other, for better or worse, and you joke around often.
  • The people who stand alongside you when shit hits the fan, friends included, are your family. These people are all the loves of your life, in a way different than but equal to your significant other’s love.
  • Fairytale of New York is a great song, and hysterical to use at a funeral. That is how you celebrate someone’s life. After all, a funeral is supposed to be a way to celebrate someone’s life and their impact on yours, as well as mourn your and everyone else’s loss of the individual. Kathy Bates’ face is perfect in the shot where the priest starts singing along.
  • Inappropriate jokes will happen at a funeral. I know I tried to be “light” during my dad’s funeral, still in shock and disbelief, surrounded by a bunch of strangers and “family members” who never bothered to talk to or see him or us when he was alive. During a relative’s funeral, my mother suggestively said to her sister “Mary, the navy is here!” when a sailor walked by. They burst out laughing and got a dirty look from their aunt for that one, and I laughed when I heard the story, decades later. A sense of humor keeps you going through the darkest of times.
  • Dreams and daydreams where a deceased loved one is still alive are common for survivors. It’s a case of dreams being manifestations of what you want the most.
  • You feel numb, broken and detached from the world you once belonged to after a loved one passes away
  • “You gotta be rich to be insane, Hol. Losing your mind is not a luxury for the middle class.” I could write a memoir about how true that statement is.
  • Siblings are weird. I’m definitely the more eccentric one between me and my sister.
  • One member of a couple may be the more assertive and decisive one. It’s not fair, from the outside, to consider this person aggressive or domineering. Sometimes the role of leader needs to be filled in certain situations, and one person naturally assumes it based on his or her personality. In other instances, the other partner may be the dominant one. Though, yes, when looking for a house or apartment, definitely consider the other person’s thoughts and concerns, because your significant other should be your partner, and partners make business and merger decisions together.
  • Survivor’s guilt is common, as is projection. You will remember so many small details of good times, and easily ruminate over things you wish you hadn’t said or done.
  • Couples will egg each other on and laugh at one another’s expense. It’s part of the relationship’s perpetual dance, the flirtation that happens after you’ve been with someone for awhile.
  • It can be incredibly difficult to get rid of anything that reminds you of a deceased loved one, just ask anyone who’s appeared on Hoarders.
  • Pretty much everything Kathy Bates says in this is the blunt voice of reality, and she’s  right. Love is, and can survive, brutal honesty.
  • Slightly older, foreign men can seem worldlier than our boys in the U.S. Some guys can seem at least a decade younger and less mature than their female counterparts, depending on how they’re raised and socialized.
  • Life goes on around you, even when yours feels like it’s stopped. It may even feel wrong for your friends to be happy and absorbed in what’s going on with them when you’re still devastated. They’re living, though, and you will be too, soon.
  • In-laws don’t always love their kid’s significant others, and vice versa. It’s not about them, though, it’s about you and your love.
  • At the start of a relationship, you always try to impress one another and show each other your best self. In a long-term relationship, you’re likely to get called out for being dishonest to yourself or your guy or girl, or for being overly sentimental. You become friends and partners when you’re in a real relationship.
  • Love starts from within and radiates out.
  • Love is when a “wonderful [person] happens to you,” and you claim each other as your own.
  • “If we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that, too.”
  • Not every close friend is fitting as a romantic partner. I am glad the film didn’t take the easy route with Daniel and Holly, and hopefully Holly’s Mom and Not-Gerry’s dad will hook up, instead of Holly and Not-Gerry. *shudders* (More on Not-Gerry in the B.S. section)
  • “There are all kinds of love out there. This is my one and only life, and it’s a great, and terrible, and short and endless thing. And none of us comes out of it alive.”

B.S. Not So True

  • People need space after a fight. Granted, a movie has to keep moving along or the audience will get bored. And yes, NSFW, fights can lead to make-up sex, but you don’t forgive each other 20 seconds after slamming a door. Your teammate has become your opponent, so stay in your own corner until you both cool off and can discuss the conflict more calmly.
  • The silent treatment. Realistically, for me, at least, if one partner is quiet when he or she is upset, he or she is about to explode. In my relationship, there are no petty, immature games of Silent Treatment, the yelling will happen. The issue will be abundantly clear, put out onto the table within a minute of the fight’s initiation, then the immature behavior starts, like name calling or mimicry, depending on the amount of rage and stressors we’re under. Apologizing and saying “I love you” is always necessary. Don’t believe the crap they fling you in tales like Love Story.
  • Flirting generally doesn’t happen at a funeral, though this is supposed to be based in NYC, so I guess crazy and quirky are expected, especially in a rom-com-dram.
  • Forget Miss Havisham. Great Expectations is greatly overrated. It’s difficult to get into Dickens’ style of writing, regardless of whether people actually spoke like that when he was alive. South Park’s version with Pip is infinitely better.
  • Not everything in Ireland is music and leprechauns. Granted, the teens and early 20-somethings this film is geared toward may not know much about the culture, but Ireland’s culture and history is as rich as any other country’s.
  • Karaoke is never the answer. Just no.
  • Women have, at the very least, a general idea of what they want.
  • Dude, bros before hos! You don’t boink your dead husband’s close friend, especially when he looks like Gerry’s doppelganger and you’ve only been widowed for a few months. Why would you get back on the dead horse?! There are layers of “Not OK” here. Seriously, creepy and too coincidental, movie. And don’t mention the dead husband after you boned his widowed wife, Not-Gerry.
  • Going out on a lake to fish when no one on the boat knows the fundamentals is not a smart idea. There are a couple of similar moments in this film when the three friends act more like teenagers than competent 30-somethings. Maybe it’s played up for laughs, or to lighten the seriousness of what is otherwise a tragic period of Holly’s life. This is where S. I Love You starts skating close to rom-com territory.
  • Man butts are usually much hairier than depicted on film and television, except for maybe swimmers’. The more you know. And, yes, women ogle.
  • As soon as she’s a financially independent adult, a woman of substance really doesn’t care about shoes that much.

In the end, I’m still fond of this movie. Anything that can move me to tears or laughter earns its place in my heart. Something that can do both? That stays with you forever. And, as Flogging Molly, the band that plays as the credits role, says in a different song,“Between a man and a woman, it’s everything or nothing at all.” That statement is true of any romantic relationship. A life shared with others is a life of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. I love you. Now go scumble on.

This entry was posted in 21st Century Art, Art, Art Blog, Art Criticism, Art Review, Cancer, Comedy, Comedy Writing, Critical Analysis, Critique, Cultural Values, Dad, Death, FIlm, Films Based On Books, Grief, Holiday Films, Honoring Someone's Memory, Irish Literature, Literature, Losing a Family Member, Loss, Love, Loved Ones, Mourning, Music, Relationships, Stages of Grief, Tragicomedies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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