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By Matthew Sorrento | December 27, 2007

Hillary Swank is an actor in search of a genre. Or, rather, in search of a new genre, now that she has maxed out her gritty-outsider-girl persona with “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million-Dollar Baby” (even if she triumphs in both of the Oscar-winning roles). Richard LaGravenese, who once upon a time penned what may be Terry Gilliam’s best film (“The Fisher King”), is a writer-turned-director in search of a purpose. He believes he has found his muse in the able Swank, but what little inspiration has come.

He cast Swank in “Freedom Writers,” an “inspirational” drama that coddles to those who boo-hoo the state of inner city schools while driving their luxury SUVs to the Metroplex. While “Freedom” is mired in wish fulfillment, LaGravenese’s “P.S. I Love You” is another misfiring attempt for the star and director. This time Swank is a young widow named Holly who keeps hanging on to her dead husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler, one of “300’s” raving lunatics). He was a loose-cannon Irish cad who kept their relationship in peril until he died from a brain tumor. An opening scene that seems to run longer than the entirety of “Freedom Writers” begins in a potentially marriage-severing argument and closes in intimacy. Hence, the unresolved heartache of Swank, who can turn on fragility for what seems to be an endless running time.

Swank walks through this film with ease and makes many moments seem believable. But she’s bogged down in a narrative with neither an arc nor the key scenes of a slice-of-life pic. It seems as if LaGravenese and co-writer Steven Rogers scripted random ideas for a series and then pulled them from a grab bag during production. As Holly receives more and more letters in the mail that Gerry wrote before he died, she feels lost all the more, and we are lost for what to think of all this. Her friends are played by two performers in lose-lose casting calls: Lisa Kudrow, the designated comic relief, has never been so consistently unfunny, and Gina Gershon looks uncomfortable in every (pseudo-)inspirational moment. Though we are meant to grieve Holly’s loss, we curse our lost time.

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