In this sweet holiday treat that’s alternately tart and saccharine, an extended pre-credits prologue introduces us to Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler), a couple in the midst of a fight. The argument reveals the core issues putting a strain on their marriage—money and, relatedly, the timing of starting a family (although their chicly-decorated apartment looks positively luxurious compared to how they complain about it)—but culminates with the pair in each other’s arms. In this way, we get the CliffsNotes to the entire relationship of a couple wedded young but together for almost a decade.
Cut to Gerry’s wake. He’s died of brain cancer, but, after a period of wallowing in her grief (and her own filth), Holly receives a message from beyond the grave in the form of a 30th birthday cake and a tape recording. This first of many love letters will continue to arrive for a year, instructing her to go out on the town with her girlfriends, sing karaoke, go on holiday in Ireland,and find herself.
There are lovely moments in this adaptation of Irish author Cecilia Ahern’s novel: When Holly finally gets a long-needed lamp for her side of the bed, she lies there switching it on and off, seeing her departed beloved in the light shed by his posthumous gift. Moreover, amid the romance there’s an acknowledgement that the continuation of Holly and Gerry’s relationship after his death may not be healthy for her and, in some ways, cruel, especially as Holly finds it difficult to witness her friends’ lives moving on.
In addition to the steadying presences of Kathy Bates as her mother Patricia, who’s doubted the relationship from its start, and Gina Gershon as her maternal friend Sharon, Holly is surrounded by a cast of quirky characters who bring some humor but mostly uncomfortable unevenness to the picture. Singer/songwriter Nellie McKay makes her acting debut as Holly’s sister Ciara, who flies in from Australia to do little more than shout and play games of snaps. Lisa Kudrow’s single gal pal Denise’s identifying feature is the checklist she runs down every time she spots a potential mate, walking off without another word if her requirements aren’t met. Most off-putting, given the crucial role he plays, is Harry Connick Jr. as her mom’s new barkeep Daniel, who eyes Holly on the day of her husband’s wake and professes the need for medication for a condition that boils down to rudeness. These idiosyncrasies serve as welcome relief in contrast to bland sap William (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), another admittedly cute Irish rogue who attracts Holly’s attention, but their presence at times jars the picture’s otherwise unapologetically romantic tone.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Harry Connick Jr., Gina Gershon, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kathy Bates
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Screenwriters: Richard LaGravenese and Steve Rogers
Producers: Wendy Finerman, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove and Molly Smith
Rating: PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity
Running time: 126 min.
Release date: December 21, 2007