Neither here nor there, neither offensively bad nor anything special, "Catch and Release" inspires little more than a shrug. Susannah Grant, a well-versed screenwriter (2006's "Charlotte's Web
") making her directorial debut, has created a generic slice-of-life that hinges too heavily on a love story that is underwhelming and not at all romantic. Signaling that there isn't enough depth or charisma to make it work, Grant has piled on a handful of side characters and subplots that go nowhere to fill out the rest of the running time. The results are cursorily diverting thanks to a likable cast, but also instantly disposable.
Gray Wheeler's (Jennifer Garner) wedding day should be the happiest of her life. Instead, she must attend the funeral of her fiancé, mourning the loss of a man she never had the chance to spend the rest of her life with. Moving in with best friends Sam (Kevin Smith) and Dennis (Sam Jaeger), Gray hasn't yet fully come to terms with her beloved's passing when she discovers a whole side of his life that he never told her about. As she puts together the pieces of a person who once was involved in an affair with massage therapist Maureen (Juliette Lewis) and conceived of a child he had since been secretly supporting, Gray herself is drawn into a new relationship with her hubby-to-be's good buddy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant).
"Catch and Release" opens as a story about unforeseen loss and the process of dealing with it and learning to move on, but loses sight of this aspiration very quickly. In its place is a loosely navigated narrative featuring middling conflicts, few surprises, a throwaway romance that occurs for no reason other than out of necessity, and pleasant supporting characters who steal the show away from the bland leads. This should be Gray's movie, but her screen time is downgraded in the second hour to the point where one forgets the film is primarily supposed to be about her. It's just as well, since Gray jumps into a relationship with Fritz so quickly after the death of her fiancé that it causes her to seem insincere about her alleged love for him and mildly insensitive. It also doesn't help that Gray and Fritz form a superficial connection at best; the viewer is supposed to put a personal stake in the outcome of their romance, but mostly is left to ponder what these two possibly see in each other.
As Gray, Jennifer Garner (2004's "13 Going on 30
") is dramatically committed and effective in the first act as she is faced with unimaginably grim circumstances. Once the grieving subsides, however, Gray is revealed to be a fairly uninteresting and one-note character who sees her own worth only in the affections of Fritz. Usually typecast as the heavy, it is a nice change to see Timothy Olyphant (2004's "The Girl Next Door
") play a more down-to-earth character as Fritz. Unfortunately, he and Garner share zero chemistry, and their love scene is disastrously mounted, edited with so many superimposed dissolves as to render the screen unintelligible for two solid minutes.
If the main protagonists are dullards, Kevin Smith (2006's "Clerks II
") and Juliette Lewis (2006's "Aurora Borealis
") shine like beacons of light to break up the unconvincing monotony. Although the free-spirited Sam is perhaps only a slight extension of the actor's real-life persona, Smith is charming, lovable, and even touching in the role, proving that he has another talent besides directing himself as Silent Bob. As the offbeat Maureen, Lewis displays joyous comedic instincts, as well as a welcome levity and kindness that makes her more than just a quirky script creation. A scene in which Maureen gives Sam an intense body massage is a high point, and their own burgeoning feelings for one another is ten times more engaging than the interplay between Gray and Fritz. Had the film focused on them, director Susannah Grant might have been onto something special.
With the emo-heavy soundtrack cranked up to eleven, "Catch and Release" is an overly conventional and stagnant romantic dramedy that never finds its footing. Additional subplots move in and out with a random, unfinished sense of heavy post-production editingDennis confesses his heartfelt feelings for Gray, for example, but nothing ever comes of it, and all of the characters apparently live in a world where they rarely have to go to jobs and make a living. As for the centerpiece journey that Gray goes on, the picture fails to capture any meaning outside of her seeming belief that the only thing that will make her happy is a man. The genesis behind "Catch and Release" might have begun as a well-meaning tale about a young woman coming to grips with a tragedy she couldn't possibly have anticipated, but its road to the big screen has transformed it into forgettable, lightweight fluff.