There’s something to be said for a romantic comedy where the main couple’s “meet cute” takes place after the male lead bangs one of the caterers in the bathroom where the female lead has been hiding. Not much, but something.
In “Catch and Release,” not-quite-widow Gray(?) Wheeler (Jennifer Garner, for whom the phrase “bee-stung lips” was invented) thought she’d be celebrating her wedding, but instead is enduring a wake following the never explained death of her fiancé, Grady (writer/director Susannah Grant must’ve used a baby names book from 1926 to come up with these). The wake takes place on the same day and in the same place as the planned nuptials, a fact made clear when the flower guy accidentally shows up, making for what I imagine is supposed to be a poignant scene. I couldn’t help but think about those lazy wedding invitees (we know who we are) who decided to skip the ceremony and head straight for the reception only to run smack dab into Bummer Town. It’s a great way to kill that three-beer buzz you put on in the parking lot.
After the funeral, Gray discovers she can no longer afford to rent the cute house in Boulder’s bohemian district she shared with the deceased, so she moves in with her best male friends, Dennis (Sam Jaeger) and Sam (Kevin Smith). Dennis is the Responsible One who’s always harbored secret feelings for Gray, while Sam is the Irresponsible Slacker who sleeps a lot and drinks too much. He also appears to have some form of job with tea company Celestial Seasonings, and if they didn’t pony up at least 51% of the financing behind “Catch and Release,” then Columbia Pictures got hosed. Sam drops little philosophical nuggets attributed to “Lemon Zinger” or “Sweet Clementine Chamomile” and wears official CS t-shirts (when he isn’t wearing the trademark Kevin Smith line of “37” clothing items, that is). It’s an orgy of product placement that gives “You’ve Got Mail” a run for the money.
Because attractive women in movies can’t be fulfilled until they find a man, the bathroom fornicator from the opening scene (Timothy Olyphant) returns because he’s looking to take a break from his hectic directing career. His name is Fritz (see above) and in the course of staying in the same house as the others (he was friends with Grady in the old days) he divulges to Gray that her ex may not have been the stand-up guy she’d assumed and had, in the words of Gale Snoats, been up the “the devil’s bidness.” Her romance with Fritz runs into some snags when it becomes obvious that he’s been holding back about the details of his other life, one of which is pretty honking significant.
Garner is acceptable as the grieving, then incensed, then forgiving protagonist. She’s a little softer post-pregnancy, which – if anything – makes her more believable than if she’d still been in “Elektra” shape. Comic relief Smith will, depending on your feelings for the man, either thrill you with his pop culture jokes and Star Wars references or annoy the piss out of you with his pop culture jokes and Star Wars references. As for Olyphant, we’re never really sure why he transforms from lecherous dog to decent guy in the span of a few months. As a fan of “Deadwood,” I was waiting for him to call Smith a c********r and pistol whip him anyway.
“Catch and Release” won’t make anybody’s “best of” lists a year from now, but it’s nowhere near as offensive as some other examples of this moldy genre. We may roll our eyes at Gray overcoming her righteous indignation at Grady’s philandering by boning his friend, or we might know Gray’s conflicts with Fritz and her wealthy mother-in-law aren’t going to result in actual bitterness. We may even realize that, in the real world, disgruntled family members contesting a will usually resort to ugly lawsuits and character assassination rather than learning the error of their ways at the last minute. Whatever, it’s a movie.
Now who wants some tea?