Catch And Release

2007, Movie, PG-13, 110 mins


Prolific screenwriter Susannah Grant's feature directing debut gets off on the right foot, courtesy of an unusual ensemble cast, beautiful locations, a subtly effective soundtrack and her own excellent sense of timing. But as soon as it pitches camp in generic romantic-comedy territory, it loses its intriguing edge and becomes one more predictable girl-meets-unsuitable-boy story.

Boulder, Colorado: Widowed before she could walk down the aisle, Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) lost husband-to-be Grady to a fatal accident during his bachelor-party fishing trip. Devastated and unable to keep up with the rent, she moves in with Grady's pals Dennis (Sam Jaeger) — who was also his business partner — and Sam (Kevin Smith), who welcome her and her bridal-registry bounty of kitchen gadgets. To Gray's dismay, they've also offered a berth to fellow groomsman Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), a slick California commercial director whom Gray had the misfortune to see getting up close and personal with a flirty caterer at Grady's funeral. Tensions notwithstanding, they all manage to coexist while fumbling through their raw grief. Dennis busies himself creating a peace garden in Grady's memory, Sam puts on a happy face while sliding into a drunken depression, and Fritz is at loose ends, unable to work up the resolve to go back to his shallow but thriving career. Gray just wants to get through, one day at a time. And she's managing to do just that, until she runs across incontrovertible proof that her perfect fiance was anything but: He had a secret million-dollar bank account and was sending sizable monthly checks to L.A.-based massage therapist Maureen (Juliette Lewis), the mother of his 3-year-old son, Mattie (Joshua Friesen). The situation becomes still more awkward when Maureen and Mattie turn up on Dennis and Sam's doorstep, practically destitute and looking for answers about Grady. Fritz gets the opportunity to prove that he isn't quite the slimeball he appears when he does his best to spare everyone's feelings and smooth over the situation. Gray's realization that she misjudged him develops into a crush that throws yet another kink into the crowded house's tenuous balance: Sam has harbored repressed romantic feelings for Gray for years.

Garner is completely likable as a romantic lead whose heart has been dragged over too many miles of rough road, and Olyphant is both appropriately attractive and armed with substantial acting chops. Writer-director Smith — best known for playing "Silent Bob" in his own movies — handles his large chunks of dialogue with entertaining aplomb, and his scenes with Lewis and Friesen are some of the funniest moments the film has to offer. But given the film's complicated and ambitious opening, it's that more disappointing when it settles into the rut of "happily ever after" cliches. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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