I saw "Catch and Release" a couple of months ago, the first screening, writer-director Susannah Grant said, of the final cut. It was a very friendly audience, but watching the movie, I couldn't help but feel Grant could have and should have done better.
The film opens promisingly, teasing us and playing with our expectations as we first see Gray (Jennifer Garner) and the circumstances she finds herself in. However, Grant never quite builds on that initial promise and soon "Catch and Release" meanders into traditional romantic comedy territory, complete with the obligatory playful and lovable sidekick - in this case, Sam (Kevin Smith) - and the friend harboring a romantic secret of his own, Dennis (Sam Jaeger).
The crux of the story is Gray's realization that her life is being turned upside down because of what she finds out about a loved one. And - I'm giving away no secrets here, because it is, after all, a romantic comedy - the blossoming romance between her and Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who at first is seemingly wrong for her. But wanna guess if that will change?
The star of the film is undoubtedly Garner. Just as she did in "13 Going on 30" (2004), she again takes what should be a pedestrian film and boosts it considerably with her undeniable charm. She has a smile that melts the hardest heart and although "Catch and Release" can never shake its conventions, whenever the film entertains, it's mostly because of Garner. She imbues Gray with a vulnerability that's utterly convincing.
Smartly, Grant also gives Smith - essentially playing himself with cleaner language - the film's funniest lines. They're not anything novel, but it's typical Kevin Smith. She also tags on a romantic interest for Sam. It's no surprise, because Grant cannot break the shackles of the genre for something original. You can see the pairing long before it actually happens on screen.
Juliette Lewis seems an oddity in this film. I've not seen her in a film for years and her character tends to grate a bit. Lewis is a good actress, but she seems to get typecast in these off-kilter roles and there's an unmistakable sense we've seen this performance from her before.
Olyphant plays sleazy well - just watch him in the otherwise-forgettable "The Girl Next Door" (2004). In "Catch and Release," his caddish boor actually is a facade. Turns out, this chap's actually a nice guy. He has to be. After all, he has Gray to win over and Grant's doing this by-the-numbers.
And therein lies the film's problem. Despite Grant's admirable attempt to spin the romantic comedy's meet-cute moment, it's hard to believe Gray would fall for a chap who, for the lack of a better phrase, finds carnal comfort at the most unlikely occasions.
Of course, "Catch and Release" has a certain sweetness about it. How can it not when Garner's so adorable. It's polished, looks good; a cut above, say, the odd independent romcoms that tackle the trials and tribulations, the angst and adoration among a group of good friends. But it offers nothing new and relies on a few too many "movie" moments to elicit laughs. Some of those moments are funny, but you get the impression they're not exactly rooted in any realm of reality. Yet, Grant seems to want to lend her story a sense of reality, one that deals with love, loss and forgiveness.
Grant said when she recut her film, she was forced to excise some of Fritz's back story. It doesn't seem warranted, but there seems to be something missing from Fritz. We know the story's moving to get Gray and Fritz together - this is a freakin' Hollywood studio-produced romantic comedy, after all - but it all seems too orchestrated from the beginning.
Is it too much to ask a Hollywood romantic-comedy writer to be even slightly daring? Hollywood-produced romantic comedies, by their very nature, are predictable. You know going in the girl and the guy will wind up together, so it's the journey that is supposed to thrill us. Maybe even surprise us. Grant, however, chooses the safest, and therefore, least surprising, path. She hits all the points a screen writing guru without an ounce of originality would demand be seen in a romcom script. The only novelty here is that Grant got some attractive, appealing and talented actors for her directorial debut. It is they who keep this extremely conventional story from turning unbearable. Though, even Garner's considerable cuteness cannot salvage the film's ending.