Gray (Jennifer Garner) mourns the death of her fiancee on the day she was supposed to be married. As she stands among the group of friends and family wishing her and her once and future mother-in-law (Fiona Shaw) their condolences, she watches a delivery truck deliver the flowers for her now cancelled wedding. Feeling claustrophobic, she retreats to the bathroom and hides in the tub, closing the shower curtain. A few moments later, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), one of her fiancee's friends, a movie director from Hollywood, rushes into the bathroom with a girl and they proceed to have sex, unaware of Gray's presence. As Fritz basks in the afterglow, she appears and stares at him with disgust. Later, she finds Fritz is rooming with Dennis (Sam Jaeger) and Sam (Kevin Smith), her fiancee's roommates and business partner, reluctant to return to Hollywood after a movie deal fell through. Unable to afford the rent on her new apartment, she moves in to her boyfriend's room. Soon, Gray begins to learn things about her fiancee that she didn't know. Maureen (Juliette Lewis), a massage therapist from Los Angeles, with a small son, arrives looking for the deceased; he is the father of her child and she is curious why his monthly support check has stopped. All of these people come together to form an uneasy relationship, helping each other cope with the loss of their friend. As the days pass, Gray and Fritz begin to run into each other and begin spending time together. But Gray is reluctant to call it a relationship and let Sam and Dennis know they are a couple.
Writer/ Director Susannah Grant, whose previous credits as a writer include "Erin Brockovich" and "Pocahontas", creates a richly detailed look at these people's lives. As a premiere directorial effort, she shows a lot of natural talent. The film occasionally veers a little too much into sitcom territory, but overall, "Catch" is a remarkably well-made romantic comedy.
Pretty much everything that works in this film is something that shouldn't or wouldn't work in the hands of a less talented director. Grant gets a lot of credit for using some of these things and and making them work. As the film begins, we see Gray (Garner) standing in the middle of a crowded room, watching other people try to give solace to her once and future mother-in-law (Shaw) and she watches people approach her in dread, clearly uncomfortable. These images are probably enough, but Grant has Garner provide some voice over further illuminating the character's feelings and thoughts. The voice over works; in a few short moments, we come to know quite a bit about her. Throughout "Catch" the voice over returns occasionally, helping to provide more information throughout the story. As we meet the individual characters, we should like some of them and dislike others. Grant does a better job than that, providing each character with both good and bad character traits. In other words, many of the characters are more human because of this. These characters come alive and seem more like someone you might meet on the street.
Garner does a very good job of portraying Gray. As a young woman who now has found her life has completely changed course, she is naturally going through a rough time. As we watch this journey, Garner brings both Gray's good qualities and bad qualities to life. She clearly cared for her dead fiancee, but also cares for her friends and tries to help them cope as she tries to cope with the loss. When she finds out about Maureen (Lewis), she is initially shocked, angered and confused. But when she meets the woman and sees her son, she begins to realize she can't completely shut them out of her life, for her fiancee's sake, because they are inexplicably intertwined. The relationship with Fritz also builds naturally. Gray and Fritz basically run into each other as each goes through their day. They hang around a bit, get to know each other and start looking for ways to hang out together.
As she gets to know this man she once disliked, she learns about his good qualities and they share a relationship. But she wants to keep it a secret. How can she let Sam and Dennis know she is in a relationship with another one of their friends, so soon after her fiancee died? Throughout the film, Garner gives Gray little nuances which help her seem like a real woman.
Timothy Olyphant is also very good as Fritz, the film director who has returned to Boulder and decides to stick around for a while after his next film project falls through. He has no reason to rush home. His character starts out as a less than likable figure, but over the course of the film, he rediscovers a love of photography and begins to take pictures of his friends, appreciating them with a new eye. As Gray begins to learn about Maureen, Fritz tries to protect her from the truth, something that ends up backfiring on him. As their relationship builds, it is nice to see the feelings he has for Gray intensify, so much so that he is hurt when she continues to try to keep their relationship a secret.
Dennis (Jaeger) and Sam (Smith) provide a sort of yin and yang chorus to all of the other craziness in their lives. Dennis is the fiancee's business partner, roommate and friend. They own a fly fishing expedition company and in fact, Gray's fiancee died on such a trip, his bachelor trip, days before the wedding. Jaeger does a better job of creating a real personality for his character. He is clearly distraught by the death of his friend and business partner, but is also conflicted by Gray's next choice. During the story, Dennis makes an ill fated attempt to date a girl who is more of a replacement for the real love of his life, someone he can't have. Smith plays Sam, the portly friend who seems to have little direction in life. Smith appears in a bathrobe and t-shirt through much of the film and also seems to have been directed to try to inject some humorous moments throughout and these veer a little too far into sitcom territory. An episode with a blender and a waffle iron seems plucked out of a bad "Three's Company" episode. This wouldn't matter in a more typical comedy, but in "Catch", the remainder of the characters are much more realistic, so he seems out of place.
Juliette Lewis plays Maureen, a massage therapist from Los Angeles who has a love child with Gray's former fiancee. I have never been a huge fan of Lewis, but Maureen is a very well-rounded character. When she arrives in Boulder, she has no idea about the death everyone else is dealing with, she is simply looking for her son's father, to see why he has stopped sending the support money he used to send. As she learns about the situation, Sam and Dennis become more involved in her life, because she is hanging around and needs some help with her son. She also knows Fritz, who lives in Los Angeles, and knew about their affair. She becomes a reluctant member of the group and fits into the oddball assortment well.
In so many romantic comedies, the writer's go to painstaking lengths to think of witty things for the characters to say and the lines are delivered with all the subtlety of a stand up comedian backed by a drummer with cymbal crashes. Grant has created some great dialogue, but she directs the cast to be more natural. For instance, when Gray and Fritz are walking around, Fritz says "I owe you an apology". "Just one?". "For the funeral". Gray responds "Yeah, if it hadn't been for you, that would've been one great day." This is good dialogue and it works even more because of the delivery from the actors.
"Catch and Release" is a surprisingly good romantic comedy. The relationship builds in a realistic way and the twists and turns seem natural and believable. How many romantic comedies can we say that about? How many films released in January can we say that about?