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Return to Sender

Tadpole reborn: Talky indie scores with unglamorous sex, everything else an afterthought

If Roger Dodger and the new quasi-rom-com P.S. are any indication, indie greenhorn Dylan Kidd just can't shut up. His characters barely pause for breath, which, given the ubiquitous precedents of Smith, Linklater, Anderson, Tarantino, ad infinitum, merely places his wares in an already busy bazaar. Adapting a supremely idiotic novel by Helen Schulman, Kidd makes the not uncommon mistake in P.S. of assuming that tosh whipped up lightly in a chatty chick-lit paperback, where it can be licked off the spoon easily enough, may make perfect sense in a flesh-and-blood movie. Given the ungainly results, and hedging his bets, Kidd truck-dumps cuddly-crunchy guitar strumming and post–Edie Brickell songs into the copious cracks.

Our focus is Louise (Laura Linney), a lonely 39-year-old admissions administrator at Columbia still maintaining a friendship with her physics-prof ex (Gabriel Byrne) and a long-distance phone rapport with a caricatured vamp buddy (Marcia Gay Harden). Dropping like a hailstone into her dreary routine is a graduate applicant (Topher Grace) whose drowsy good looks, wiseass voice, and name—F. Scott Feinstadt—exactly fit those of Louise's long-dead high school boyfriend. (We know she's still pining, because she sniffs keepsakes stored in a closet box, even though they must, after 20 years, smell like the box.) Obviously caught in the trough of a self-esteem wave, Louise intuits destiny, or something, and ruts with the lad on their first interview. ("Loving this executive recruitment thing," he cracks.) Kidd scores a major hit in his decision to shoot this scene in long, uninterrupted takes, allowing the actors to revel in both headlong lust and the awkward in-between moments, when we wait for buttons to be unfastened, rubbers to be rolled on, etc. It may be the first American film in decades to honestly, unglamorously capture impulsive sex between two recognizable human beings.

Dead man on campus? Linney and Grace
photo: Newmarket Films
Dead man on campus? Linney and Grace

After that, Kidd's movie staggers around as if its own story was some bad brown acid it had foolishly ingested. Byrne's grizzled smoothie confesses he's a sex addict, Harden inexplicably appears in New York heaving her cleavage around and slurping margaritas, and the question of whether this is a movie about reincarnation or fate or middle-aged delusion remains unaddressed far beyond our capacity to care. Many of the admirably long conversational scenes are pointless; some, like Harden and Linney's climactic bitch-fest in a hotel room, are flat-out absurd. Here, Linney is a vivid if overripe laborer—her line readings have the cheap-seats emphasis of an NPR fiction reader—leaving Grace, who may be the only young actor to have osmosed the Method stylings of Dennis Hopper, as the movie's most indelible figure. Even he, at film's end, seems at a loss as to what the hullabaloo was all about.

 
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