Susannah Grant's Catch and Release is a nice movie. It tells the story of Gray (Jennifer Garner
), a nice woman whose nice fiancée Grady has just died; in the days and weeks following his funeral, she becomes a roommate to his nice best friends (Kevin Smith
and Sam Jaeger
I use the word "nice" because the characters come close to having personalities, but back away politely; their lives are so caught up in this admittedly life-changing event that the outside world doesn't seem to exist. The movie is realistic enough to show Gray moving out of her new house because she can't afford to pay the rent on her own, but not so unsparing that any of the characters, rich or poor, have employment that qualifies as anything other than a mild distraction. For a few movie-days, the free time looks like mourning; an hour in, it begins to resemble, well, one of those movies where no one has a real job. Article continues below
Into this sad (but still pretty nice) situation comes Fritz (Timothy Olyphant
), who may know a few things that Grady was hiding from his friends, family, and wife-to-be. As her understanding of Grady changes, Gray's grieving becomes murkier, and even more alien -- especially when she starts to reconsider her feelings towards Fritz, too.
This central effort to deepen both the story and its characters is admirable, but revealing that a mourned husband (or fiancée) was not what he appeared to be has long since become a shortcut of its own in both thrillers and, more recently, romances like this one. The revelation provides both superficial story complications and an easy go-ahead for the lead character's new relationship; in other words, it is more convenient than the filmmakers would like to admit.
You can tell Catch and Release would like to be an exception. It sidesteps most other clichés of the genres it straddles (romance, comedy, drama), and Grant feels compassion for her characters and their relationships. Though she strikes a reflective tone, she doesn't ask the audience to get weepy about it, keeping the fiancée offscreen for almost the entire movie (his one semi-appearance is realistic and almost lovely in its fleeting haziness). But taking out clichés and sentiment signifies good intentions, not necessarily a good movie; something else has to be added in. Catch and Release lacks that something else.
The actors are all likable and a touch unconvincing. Jennifer Garner, like Sarah Michelle Gellar
, may be more effective on television, developing a character over time; here, even in an overlong movie, she doesn't have time to tell us who Gray really is, and what exactly is changing about her. Olyphant, he of so many welcome supporting turns, only really comes alive when he gets to be sleazy in an early scene and coldly sarcastic in a later one. Kevin Smith, appearing more or less as himself, is an ideal sidekick in the sense that he exudes friendliness (he could play Travis Bickle's best friend without breaking a sweat), but less so in the sense that moments of depression and alcohol abuse just seem like Silent Bob being goofy.
I don't doubt that writer-director Grant is coming from a good place, and her film never inflicts pain with the cheerful broadness of many awful romantic comedies. It doesn't end with a mad dash through an airport, for example. But nor does it bother with thinking of anything much better.