Monday, January 29, 2007

Catch and Release: When bad things happen to okay people who insist on smiling anyway

In Catch and Release (yes, the title made me grimace, too), Jennifer Garner plays a woman, probably in her late twenties, whose fiance dies in a sporting accident a day or so before their wedding; their ostensible wedding day is thus the day of his funeral. At the funeral, Garner, playing a character named Gray Wheeler, bravely holds back tears, which enables her to act mostly with her upper lip; seeking escape from the sympathetic crowd, she hides in the bathtub to cry in private, and mistakenly witnesses her dead fiance's best friend having a quickie with a cater-waitress.

And from there, we're off. Garner retreats to the house her fiance shared with roomies played by Sam Jaeger and Kevin Smith, and eventually resumes speaking to the quickie-prone pal, played by the toothsome Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood. Olyphant has a nervous grin that seems to appear whether his character is actually grinning or not; he ought to check that, because otherwise, his performance is respectable.

The problem with Catch and Release is that, on the one hand, the complications that ensue in the plot -- the possible redemption of the quickie pal, the bad, then good, behavior of Garner's to-be mother-in-law, played by premier Shakespearean actress Fiona Shaw (why?), her discovery that she didn't really know her fiance, a suicide attempt -- are pleasingly realistic, supporting a clear-eyed view of life's multidimensionality, which makes sense even more when one considers that the principal characters (Garner, Jaeger, Smith, Olyphant) all seem to be in their late 20s and hence at the time of their Saturn return, a time when, astrologically speaking, the shit hits the fan.

But something happened between the actual story and the film we see, and I'm not holding Susannah Grant (who also wrote Erin Brockovich; this is her first write/direct effort) wholly accountable. Although a lot of things that most people would classify as "bad" happen to these very likable characters, nothing seems to have much of an impact on them. It's not that they're not drama queens; it's that they don't show any hint of the deep emotions that, say, a suicide attempt would bring up in a real person. They bounce back too quickly, with just a bit too much bounce.

The film is set in tie-dyed Boulder, Colorado, which seems like Vermont with better mountains (just substitute Celestial Seasonings tea for Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and you'll get the idea). Maybe there's lithium in the water. Or maybe Susannah Grant allowed her arm to be twisted to get her film made (imagine! could that happen?).

Despite my criticism, I enjoyed the film. Kevin Smith, whose character works at Celestial Seasonings and is constantly spouting quotes from the tea boxes, steals every scene he's in; he's a lively and interesting Big Guy, like Donal Logue in The Tao of Steve. Jennifer Garner is okay, which I think is the best she can do, but she's the right type for the part -- a girl jock who tries not to dwell on things -- so she acquits herself well. I wondered about the names Gray Wheeler (Garner) and Grady Douglas (her deceased fiance). Gray 'n' Grady? Why don't people in films have real names?

In conclusion, if what you need is a feel-good film, Catch and Release is a safe bet. Be warned, it IS a chick flick, despite the presence of Kevin Clerks Smith. But within those limitations, it's entertaining.

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