Laura Linney shines in this semi-serious romantic comedy.
Rated R for language and sexuality;
Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.
One of the joys in this job has been watching the world discover Laura Linney.
I fell in love with her early, in the 1993 miniseries "Tales of the City," as the naive gal who reinvents herself in let-it-all-hang-out San Francisco. Her career has been building steadily, with one knockout performance after another: a lawyer sparring with Edward Norton in "Primal Fear"; a walking TV commercial in "The Truman Show"; her Oscar-nominated turn as a good sister turned rebel in "You Can Count on Me"; and brief but spectacular moments in "The Laramie Project," "Mystic River" and "Love Actually."
This month we get a double dose of Linney - next week supporting Liam Neeson in "Kinsey," and today singlehandedly ennobling a wan little romantic comedy, "p.s.," with the sheer force of her talent.
In "p.s.," Linney plays Louise Harrington, who's pushing 40 and stuck in a rut. Working as the head of admissions at Columbia University's fine-arts department, she splits her time between dinners with her ex, Peter (Gabriel Byrne), and living vicariously through the sexual exploits of her married-with-kids best pal, Missy (Marcia Gay Harden).
Then Louise reads an MFA application from a painter, F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, a master of postgraduate awkwardness), that causes her to act most uncharacteristically. She arranges to meet F. Scott, and the interview quickly becomes a passionate sexual encounter. Soon we learn why Louise has taken to F. Scott: He is the very image of her high-school boyfriend, also an artist named Scott, who died in a car crash two decades ago.
Director Dylan Kidd ("Roger Dodger"), co-writing with Helen Schulman (on whose novel this is based), takes Louise's story into several different directions and finds humor in each. At one point, it's a discourse on the possibilities of reincarnation - and a better one than the morbid "Birth" earlier this fall. Other times, it's a thoughtful re-examination of Louise's stagnant relationships with the clingy Peter, the catty Missy, her prickly mom (Lois Smith) and her recovering-addict brother Sammy (Paul Rudd). And, in the end, it's a romance that rises and falls on Louise's talent for self-martyrdom.
But at all points, "p.s." is a showcase for Linney, who juggles Louise's many self-contradictions - her coldness to her family and her warmth toward F. Scott, the joy of her new sex life and the sadness of her old one, and her mix of self-denial and self-effacement. Linney captures all that and more in a bright and humor-filled performance.