Catch and Release is a movie about the kinds of people you only meet on airplanes. You know, the ridiculously good looking guy with the boogie board on his back headed to an annual weekend snowboarding trip with some old college buddies. The couple in trendy clothes, with a wife who has somehow managed to accomplish the nearly impossible task of walking the entire length of the airport wearing four-inch high heels that set off her ripped jeans in just the right way to make her look classy and yet incredibly hip and cool. Being on an airplane is almost like being on a first date, everyone is on their best behavior and everyone has that fucking ineffable air of superiority about them since they’re all on their way somewhere awesome or important. It’s a sham, but all you see on that airplane is their airplane face.
All you’ll see in Catch and Release is airplane faces. The story revolves around a death. Grady Thompson dies on the bachelor trip he takes right before his wedding, leaving behind a grieving bride to be named Gray (Jennifer Garner). If they’d made it to the wedding, Grady and Gray would have become the kind of couple you sit behind on the plane and wish death on, with their too perfectly matched names and their too perfect looks and too perfect clothes to show off their too perfect lives. They’d have been enough to make you sick.
Without Grady, everything Gray has is thrown into upheaval and she’s forced to move in with Grady’s three befuddled best friends because, well, she doesn’t seem to have any friends or family or even any distant acquaintances of her own. During the film she mentions doing things with girlfriends, but if these women exist they’re nowhere to be found once her fiancée drops dead. Convenient, since living with Grady’s male friends means all kinds of dramatic and romantic angst, instead of just groups of women sitting around drowning Gray’s grief in a giant tub of Blue Bell ice cream.
The friends Gray inherits from her almost husband fit into a perfect group of superficial stereotypes. There’s the guy who screws caterers at his best friend’s funeral because that’s how he deals with grief (Timothy Olyphant). There’s the lovesick nice guy (Sam Jaeger), who’s been pining for his best friend’s girl but never does anything about it. There’s the funny fat guy (Kevin Smith), who when not stuffing food in his face dispenses hilarious and pithy witticism gleaned from the quotes on boxes of tea. The script is a mess of cliché’s and odd coincidences, a big bag of characters who are nothing more than artifice and aww moments.
It’s kind of a shame, because most of the cast is pretty good. Jennifer Garner does the best Robin Wright Penn impression I’ve ever seen and Tim Olyphant spends most of the movie killing with come hither looks out of the corner of his eyes. But the real scene stealer is Kevin Smith. Forced to play a fat guy who can’t seem to stop eating for even a single frame (they make him eat until it’s almost offensive), he takes his role as the funny bag of blubber and proceeds to steal the entire movie. Whenever the main characters are off doing something terribly angsty or important, you won’t find yourself wondering how they’re feeling but rather “hey I wonder what Kevin Smith’s character thinks of this.” The beauty of it is that eventually he’ll tell you, and when he does you won’t be disappointed. He’s funny, he’s sweet, he’s sincere; he’s everything that the rest of the Catch and Release is not even though the film seems to be desperately trying to define him solely by his greatly exaggerated weight.
Catch and Release writer/director Susannah Grant has a great track record as a screenwriter. She’s responsible for the screenplay used on 2006’s best family film Charlotte’s Web, she wrote Erin Brockovich, and she wrote for the acclaimed TV series ‘Party of Five’. It can’t be just that the script has gone horribly wrong here. Grant should know a thing or two about writing. Maybe she’s just not cut out for directing. This is her directorial debut, and while it’s not exactly a disaster it’s certainly not up to the standards I normally associate with other work that has her name on it. If you catch Catch and Release, feel free to throw it back.