The Celtic 'Chick-Flick': How about You (2007) and PS I Love You I (2007)

Article excerpt

2007 saw the emergence of the (quasi-) indigenous 'chick-flick' in Ireland, a genre whose literary equivalent, the 'chick-lit' novel, is a firmly established and hugely successful corner of the Irish publishing world. Stalwarts of the form such as Maeve Binchy, Deirdre Purcell, Cathy Kelly, Marian Keyes and Patricia Scanlan have long been penning stories about modern Irish women; from feisty brunettes constrained by rural tradition and authority to the urban-based escapades of the 'singleton' or 'desperate housewife'. It is not surprising, therefore, that the two biggest 'Irish chick-flicks' of 2007 How About You and PS I Love You--were both adaptations from 'chick-lit' novels by Irish writers.

It is important to point out from the outset that PS I Love You is a US production filmed by an American director (Richard La Gravanese, a highly successful Hollywood screen writer of romance--The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer, among others) and featuring an almost exclusively American cast. Its status as an 'Irish film' relates of course to the fact that the eponymous novel from which it was adapted was written by Celia Ahern, daughter of Ireland's Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The film adaptation is, to a large extent, textbook chick-flick material, yet with some interesting variations. Its protagonist is the thoroughly modern yet reassuringly traditional all-American Holly (Hilary Swank), who finds herself unable to let go of her Irish husband Gerry (Gerard Butler) after his unexpected death. In death as in life, Gerry continues to act as Holly's sage counsellor, anticipating her emotional needs before she herself is aware of them and ultimately leading her to a new love interest in Ireland, a man called Billy (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who, it transpires, was an old friend of Gerry's.

Like the genre classic Bridget Jones Diary, PS I Love You espouses all the core values of post-feminism. Women are unfulfilled unless in a stable relationship with a man. Women have different emotional hardwiring than men--who don't understand them--yet paradoxically they also need men to psychoanalyse them and keep them on track in life. Careers are quirky distractions which allow our protagonists to indulge their creative sides until Mr Right comes along. Narrative closure is generally achieved when it is decided which of two potential Mr Rights has won the heroine's affections. And finally, consumerism is equated with liberation a woman can't have enough shoes and it is imperative that none of them are comfortable.

Exactly how these infantilised shoe-fetishists became icons of the new feminism is beyond the scope of this article but suffice to say that the 'chick-flick' has played an important role. Perhaps, in any case, PS I Love You is a more interesting film when viewed in terms of its construction of Irish-American identity. Diane Negra (2006) has argued that since 9/11, Irishness has become a highly desirable and idealised ethnicity in the United States by virtue of its unusual status as both Other and white, and therefore unthreatening. Certainly, the attraction of the novel PS I Love You to American filmmakers seems to be have been influenced by this current marketability of Irish ethnicity as hip and modern on the one hand and, on the other, as "a moral antidote to contemporary ills ranging from globalization to postmodern alienation, from crises over the meaning and practice of family values to environmental destruction" (Negra, 2006: 3).

Gerry's Irishness fits perfectly with this sort of idealized ethnic identity, both proud of its traditions and yet unequivocally confident in its sense of belonging to the dominant culture. This is played out through Gerry and Holly's stormy relationship (a nod to The Quiet Man's Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher; 'harmless' domestic violence and all), Gerry's musical talent, the dark humour at his wake (which like Gerry's favourite song Fairytale of New York, starts out seriously but turns into something more playful and ironic) and most of all in the characters' ability to have fun in a way that is presumably being deliberately coded as real and earthy. …