P.S. / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
For anyone lucky enough to have seen Dylan Kidd’s first directing effort, Roger Dodger, you probably had high expectations for his follow up, P.S. Roger Dodger was as promising a first film - without being an overqualified success — as I’ve seen since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight. Roger, the lead character, was both provocative and sleazy, but always articulate, thanks to the mesmerizing and smart-as-hell script written by Kidd. For Campbell Scott, the reprehensibly charismatic lead, it was also the highlight of his acting career, even if almost no one saw it.
It was no wonder, then, that for his follow up, Dylan Kidd could attract the unbelievable cast he assembled for P.S., which included Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, and Topher Grace — all of whom probably signed on after seeing Roger Dodger but, unfortunately, before reading the script. The screenplay, adapted by Kidd from the Helen Schulman novel, strains all credibility, throwing the May-September relationship between Columbia Admissions Director Louise Harrington (Linney) and a graduate student applicant, F. Scott Fienstadt (Grace) together with such haste that before the movie even gains its bearings, it’s already challenged the audience.
The film follows Louise, a recent divorcee carrying some residual baggage from her marriage to a sex-addicted college professor (Byrne), as she prepares to settle into her middle-aged existence ,when she discovers an application on her desk from F. Scott Fienstadt, who just happens to share the same last name as a high-school boyfriend who died in a car accident. Louise, apparently believing there is no such thing as coincidence, calls up Fienstadt and, ultimately, arranges an on-campus interview after she recognizes that the applicant uses some of the same phrases as her former lover.
After a five-minute interview, and the exchange of barely 10 words, the 20-year-old Fienstadt is hurriedly mounted by the over-eager Harrington, who ostensibly feels as though she has reconnected with her high-school boyfriend, though the script supplies very little reason for Fienstadt to reciprocate her advances, other than the fact that she’s attractive and he’s got nothing better to do. Nevertheless, the two embark on an oddly possessive courtship. Given the circumstances, we as an audience are intrigued only inasmuch as we want to know 1) whether Fienstadt is playing Louise to get into Columbia, and 2) what relationship Fienstadt may or may not have to the dead lover. As it turns out, neither question is answered with any satisfaction, though Kidd does manage introduce and then dismiss a reincarnation angle that ruins what little momentum their relationship eventually builds.
As I haven’t read the novel, it’s hard to place blame for the movie’s story on the director, though Kidd must be responsible for the ham-fisted dialogue and the film’s cryptic narrative. At times it felt like someone must have removed the scenes that gave the relationship its plausibility; as it stood, there was no explanation for why a 20-year-old graduate student would act so casually around someone he’d never met, and after three days claim rights to Louise’s affection when confronted by her ex-husband, never mind the issues surrounding the ethics of an admissions director sleeping with a student, which aren’t addressed with any urgency.
The story’s major subplot, involving the way in which Louise’s estranged brother overcomes his drug addiction, is given short shrift, and for the most part, feels like it belongs in another movie altogether, as does her ex-husband’s issues with sexual addiction, an element of the narrative that adds absolutely nothing to the central arc other than distract us from the improbable relationship between Louise and Fienstadt. Marcia Gay Harden also makes a few appearances, overplaying Louise’s best friend, Missy, who apparently is also in love with both the dead Feinstadt and the 20-year-old version, an affection somehow developed over a half-hour phone call. The usually reliable Harden plays Missy as a bitchy, harlequin caricature, as though she, too, is playing a role in a different movie .
Given my fondness for Roger Dodger, I hung on to P.S. believing that, in the end, Kidd would tie everything together with a crucial piece of information that would make the entire movie make sense, or at least explain away Harden’s horrific performance. Unfortunately, he never does, which is a shame, because both Linney and Grace are extraordinary - the latter of which displayed again why he may be the future of this generation of actors — and their considerable talents go to waste. Still, don’t let P.S. steer you clear of future Dylan Kidd projects. There was too much brilliance in Rodger Dodger, and even the occasional glimpse of it in P.S., to believe this guy isn’t for real.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.