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Linney makes magic in 'p.s.'

Published December 10, 2004 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Laura Linney shines in this semi-serious romantic comedy.

Rated R for language and sexuality;

99 minutes.

Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.

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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.

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