"Catch and Release," a romantic comedy that begins with the death of a fiancé just days before the wedding, feels so authentic that it's no shock to hear on one of the commentary tracks that it was based on a true story. But it also feels long, and one has to think that first-time director Susannah Grant might release a director's cut in the future--after she learns how to say "no" to what we suspect are some of her writer's favorite scenes. The name of that writer? Susannah Grant.
Grant gives us an intelligent script--also no surprise, given that she penned the screenplays for Disney's "Pocahontas," "Erin Brockovich," and "In Her Shoes." This one comes so close to working that you begin to cheer for it along the way, as if it were the underdog at a spelling bee. But a sideplot fades in and out like a bad cell phone connection, and some scenes go on too long--including several of the enjoyable (but often unnecessary) ones by Kevin Smith, who plays a character so close to Silent Bob that it's a shock to hear him talk. And talk.
Don't get me wrong. Smith is a funny guy, when given the chance, and Grant gives him as long of a leash as Robin Williams sometimes gets. She reportedly allowed him to select his own wardrobe ("bathrobe" seems more precise), but from the routines that he pulls, it seems as if she also allowed the famous director to direct himself. Some of the scenes seemed positively self-indulgent, while other aspects of his character were cliched. What guy who makes mixed drinks all the time would be such a klutz as to leave the lid off the blender and douse himself? If Smith's character was the focus of this comedy, that would have been great, but he's comic relief, and many of his scenes could have been trimmed. Would I have preferred that? Oddly, no. Smith's performance was one of the more enjoyable parts of this film. It's just that his minor character got major air time, which felt as if it threw off the trajectory of this romantic comedy just a bit.
Jennifer Garner plays Gray Wheeler, who's widowed while the wedding cake is still in her refrigerator. In steps her fiancé's friends to look out for her and be with her through this tough time. Sam Jaeger plays Dennis, the friend who's had the silent crush on her for years, while Smith plays Sam, the funny one. And Garner must have been thinking of puppies being drowned throughout most of the filming, because in almost every frame she appears as sad-faced, puffy-cheeked, and red-eyed as Renee Zellweger on a bad day. Given this one emotional note she has to sing, it's not a terribly demanding role. And yet, when circumstances change and Gray changes, there's still too much of that weepy-faced residue.
Grant said that a friend of hers told about returning from a funeral which had the groom's friends covering for him and making sure that the woman he left behind was taken care of. "She'll never be without someone to dance with," he said. Throw in a situation that disrupts that happy state, and you've got the makings of a good screenplay, Grant thought. In "Catch and Release" there are two such situations, and yet neither one is pushed as far as it might have been. As Dennis and Sam fall all over themselves to take care of Gray, their friend from L.A. enters the picture. In true romantic comedy fashion, sparks fly during their first meeting, but in a metal-on-metal sort of way. Gray had run upstairs at the wake for her fiancé and hidden in a bathtub behind a shower curtain when in comes Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) with a blonde he's just met, and they proceed to have sex while we watch Gray's reaction. It's a nice scene, and a confrontational one when she pulls back the curtain and leaves. But the competition between the friends tends to fizzle, with Dennis alternately pining over her and getting on with his life. Instead, Grant focuses our attention on an outside element.
Gray finds a cell phone she didn't know her fiancé had, and starts checking the numbers. Needless to say, they don't add up. Neither does a huge bank account that she learns her intended had. It turns out he was pretty well-heeled, and a bit of a heel himself. As the "other woman" (Juliette Lewis) comes into the picture, "Catch and Release" takes a totally different direction. It just seems as if Grant has given us a screenplay with too many elements for her to develop them all successfully, and too many scenes in this 112-minute film that make it seem even longer. But "Catch and Release" is still enjoyable, and it's clear that Grant is a director who's going to do some great things in the future.
Set in Boulder, Colorado, "Catch and Release" has that kind of clean-air-and-granola look to it, where you expect every scene to burst with lumberjack plaid or colorful ankle-length hippie-style skirts. You do get that here, but what Blu-ray does most is exacerbate those weepy faces of Garner's, and make you think how brave this actress was to basically look so pathetic and unattractive in close-ups where you can see every pore, every reddened patch of skin in 1080p High-Def detail. The color saturation is good, the amount of detail is solid, and the black levels seem appropriate in this transfer, and so the source materials were obviously decent. And Garner hasn't looked worse, thanks to High Definition. Yet, it's not a disc I'd pop in to show off the new HD media. For that, "The Searchers," "Happy Feet," or "Transporter 2" are still my favorites. "Catch and Release" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
In general, I've been more impressed by the PCM 5.1 than the DTS HD 5.1, and this disc is no exception. The uncompressed English PCM audio delivers a fine, natural sound, with bright treble and substantial bass. There are alternate tracks in English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, but I can't imagine anyone using them unless you have equipment playback limitations. As with recent Blu-ray releases, there's a bunch of subtitle options: English, English SDH, French, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
VERY nice bonus features here. On one commentary track, Susannah Grant has her own "Evening with Kevin Smith." This candidly funny and illuminating track is among the best I've heard, though it takes the pair a full hour of nonstop chatter and laughter before they finally get around to talking about what's on the screen in front of them. Smith jumps in and takes control from the opening Columbia logo shot, basically interviewing the director as if he were a milder-mannered shock jock--outrageous, but still polite enough to respect some boundaries. Curiously, there are BLEEPS all over this commentary track, which I've never run across before. The "f-word" has popped up in a number of commentaries, so why bleep it here, unless, perhaps, they thought it would add to the humor. Grant tells Smith how she turned down several scripts from Disney before doing "Pocahontas," to which Smith replies, "Who the f--- are you to say no to Disney?" adding, "There's a lot of white guilt in Pocahontas." That's how it goes throughout this commentary track, which is great fun to listen to.
A more standard commentary comes from Grant and cinematographer John Lindley, who cover more familiar ground: technical details, location choices, cinematic problems and solutions, casting, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. It's also a good listen, but, frankly, it's awful ordinary compared to the wild track with Smith.
It's not as good as the Smith-Grant commentary, but the making-of bonus feature included here is also way better than average. For one thing, it's nicely edited, with plenty of cutaway shots to behind-the-scenes clips as a talking head speaks, then back again to the person. We can also see how the director and her female producer, Jenno Topping, created "a real easygoing vibe." There's plenty of information here, with plenty of interesting footage, but mostly it's the editing that makes this documentary a pleasure to watch. Finally, it seems, people are treating these like the short films they are, instead of cookie-cutter obligations to the DVD world.
Two rather inconsequential deleted scenes round out the extras, along with three audition clips of Jaeger, Lewis, and Smith. Grant tells how Smith was in his car heading home when she phoned his agent to tell him he got the part, and the agent phoned Smith, who pulled a U-turn and headed back to Grant to give her a hug and tell her how it was one of the happiest days in his life.
Grant's directorial debut is a qualified success, but Smith adds real life to this romantic comedy. He's got an extremely likeable charisma that comes across in "Catch and Release" like no other film. Maybe Silent Bob should have been talking all along.