I'm not a woman, but if I was, I'd be really, really insulted by this romantic comedy based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern. Swank plays Holly Kennedy, a real estate agent who wants more in life, even with hunky Irish boyfriend Gerry (Gerard Butler) already at her side. But her life takes a turn for the worse when he dies of a brain tumor, leaving her to wallow in depression as her mom Patricia (Kathy Bates) and best friends Denise (Lisa Kudrow) and Sharon (Gina Gershon) try to cheer her up.
But fear not! Soon, she receives a surprise present on her 30th birthday, along with an audio tape from beyond the grave: Gerry telling her that she can expect to receive a series of letters from him in the future. "You must do what I say, okay?" he warns. Wow! What a sweet sentiment! Apparently, this film's message is that the best way to get over a deceased loved one is to obey his posthumous advice to go shopping. And if you're really lucky, you may be rewarded by falling in love again--with a man who looks and sounds exactly like your dead husband!
As if the "Buy stuff!" solution wasn't insulting enough, this film takes ample opportunity to continually lower its portrayal of women. The script--adapted by two men, director Richard LaGravenese (remember Living Out Loud?) and Steven Rogers--also includes stuff about shoes, has Holly bringing her husband's urn with her to functions, features Swank channeling Judy Garland's "The Man That Got Away" from A Star is Born by singing into her remote control and tries to get Butler shirtless as much as possible (not that there's anything wrong with that, but just watch 300!). It all might work if it didn't feel like it was simply injected for the sake of appealing to its target audience: lonely single women.
The story reaches a new level of shame when Holly and her gal pals head to Ireland, a trip arranged by her dead hubby. The trio decides to take a row boat out to the middle of a lake, and wacky antics ensue when they inadvertently catch a fish. Watch the gals shout, laugh and fall over as they try to do guy stuff! Then, when they lose their oars, watch them refuse to jump in the water to get them (the oars are really close, too), instead opting to mope in the boat, talk about cosmetics and scream for help, eventually being saved by two men. (I'd say "You can't even write something that clichéd!", but apparently someone did...)
Even worse, the writing is lazy. You'll get two lines that try to use the word "leprechaun" to comedic effect (neither works). And if you needed another reminder that some men really can't write for women, we get two "hung" jokes...
Big Dick Joke 1:
Big Dick Joke 2:
The film is doomed from the start: Gerry is dead by Scene 2 (his funeral), after the opening sequence in which the two lovebirds argue (and make up) in their apartment. It's a long scene that immediately shouts to our attention that Swank and Butler have zero chemistry together. They spend a lot of the time fighting over something stupid, and Holly comes across like she doesn't trust Gerry or truly love him all that much, an idea reinforced through some of the flashback scenes of the couple--making it impossible to buy into the film's conceit (and Holly's feelings) later. The opening scene feels rehearsed, a "cute fight" that Holly decides to take too seriously. The relationship feels fake from the beginning, and her behavior is scripted solely to make her feel guilty later.
LaGravenese and Swank have teamed up before, in the far better Freedom Writers--a film also injected with saccharine, but sold it in a much more believable way. I have a heart, and I can enjoy schmaltz, sappiness and a good ol' chick flick as well as anyone (the scene where Holly calls Gerry's voicemail repeatedly just to hear his voice was one of the very few genuinely touching moments here), but not when it's this stupid. This isn't grounded anywhere near reality and has a weak script, leaving it up to the actors to try and rise above to pull it off--and they can't.
I'm glad Swank tried to take on a comedic role, but she can do far better than this. Bates feels equally staged in her performance, but it's Harry Connick Jr. who is simply horrendous. He plays Daniel, a worker in Patricia's bar. He has a crush on Holly, but always says the wrong thing (like pointing to Holly's urn and telling Gerry that it looks like he lost weight), which for some reason people in the story find funny. He sounds like he's doing bad stand up, rattling off self-deprecating monologues with incessant jokes that fall flat (lesbians! ha!), made worse by his awful delivery, a dull monotone that always sounds sarcastic and angry.
But falling into that so-bad-she's-almost-entertaining category is singer Nellie McKay as Holly's sister Ciara--there's absolutely ZERO believability that she and Swank could be related. I'm not sure what movie she's acting in, but she apparently thinks it's the 1920s, or that she's 12, or that she's part of The Little Rascals. Her lines have a super chirpy delivery, and every time she opens her mouth the film grinds to a halt. I quizzically wonder how on Earth she was cast...she reminds me of Dr. Nick on The Simpsons ("Hi everybody!"), only without the accent. Just check out her awkward, out-of-place delivery of the line "Hey guys! We're here!" at the 48-minute, 50-second mark, and you'll know what I mean. Amazon lists her music as a combo of lounge, shock comedy and "retro space age", which would make sense to me after watching this performance.
Butler actually does his best to infuse Gerry with energy and life, and makes him memorable. But it's hard to get over the creepy idea that he wanted to somehow control his wife's life and recovery after his death. It comes across as more spooky than sweet. Gershon isn't bad, but her character has nothing to do. The only saving grace here is Kudrow, who is responsible for the film's few laughs (okay, I also laughed at a well-placed punch line using the name of a Michael McDonald song, but that's it!). Kudrow also deserves better than this role, although I would have enjoyed seeing more of her relationship with Tom. He's played by Dean Winters, who you may recognize as Liz Lemon's ex on 30 Rock...I smiled hoping he would drift into his Beeper King salesman persona, to no avail.
P.S.--Hilary, I still love you!
There are five additional scenes (12:34), including McKay hamming it up some more at Celia's one-woman show (look for Holly, sitting in the audience with her urn!); it has a few bloopers at the end of the scene. There's also an actually funny (albeit morbid) scene with Gerry feigning death twice as he books a trip for Holly.
Then there's the immensely annoying "The Name of the Game is Snaps" featurette (4:48), a faux old-time instructional video (in black and white with fake scratchy film) that explains one of the games that gets brief mention in the movie. It's a highly confusing and extremely un-fun looking endeavor involving snapping your fingers for vowels as you try to get someone to guess a phrase--made all the more excruciating by the cheesy performances of the actors playing Jim and Jane, your teachers. My head hurt watching this. I'd rather watch the feature three times in a row than sit through this five-minute exercise in torture again. (Please, make it go away...)
Rounding out the extras are a James Blunt music video for "Same Mistake" and trailers before the feature.