the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Catch and Release

Men basically break down into two groups—those who think Jennifer Garner is beautiful and those who think that she, in the words of one of my best friends, is “manish.” I am of the former persuasion. Those in the latter camp are just plain silly.

It cannot be denied that Garner has not made the wisest of choices when it comes to picking film roles (or husbands, for that matter). From Dude, Where’s My Car? to Pearl Harbor to Daredevil and Elektra, the star of TV’s Alias was in danger of following Brendan Fraser, a similarly talented actor with a penchant for preposterous roles, down the path of near obsolescence.

It appears that all that may be about to change.

That is not to say that Garner’s latest film, Catch and Release, is a romantic comedy masterpiece. It is not. But it is leaps and bounds above anything she’s done for quite some time. And with her international political thriller, The Kingdom edging closer to release, Garner just might have redirected the path of her career. Good for her.

For a romantic comedy, Catch and Release sure opens on a downer. For starters, the bride, Gray Wheeler (Garner), is wearing black. On the day that she was supposed to wed the man of her dreams, Gray is instead standing in the middle of her would-be mother in law’s house, unsuccessfully putting on a brave face (nobody cries like Garner) for those gathered at a funeral reception for her fiancée, Grady, killed tragically just days before. Unable to maintain her composure, Gray flees to a bathroom and hides in the bathtub, concealing herself behind the shower curtain. However, what was meant to be a place of solitude is shattered by the arrival of a giggling couple who duck into the bathroom for a noisy and oblivious quickie.

This opening boded well for the film. The mixture of genuine drama and absurdist comedy hit all the right notes and hinted at an underbelly of dark humor. Later, when details came to light exposing Grady as perhaps more sinner than saint, Catch and Release showed that it was willing to take some risks and embrace messy and realistic complications. Unfortunately, the film ultimately chickened out, choosing the box-office safe cliché of a sappy ending over a film of any real gravity.

Catch and Release is set in Boulder, Colorado, and is, in many ways, a love song for the beautiful, mountainous state. The film is suffused with tiny but significant mile-high details that none but Coloradoans (including this one) will likely catch—the local Fat Tire micro-brewed beer, Bolder Boulder t-shirts, Celestial Seasonings tea quotations. The end result is a reassuringly authentic and rich textual pallet upon which freshman director Susannah Grant has created a story about love, loss and love rediscovered.

That the love rediscovered comes in the form of one half of the aforementioned bathroom interlopers is the film’s driving comedic plot. This is the classic Pride and Prejudice, When Harry Met Sally routine—woman thinks she has good reason to hate man only to discover later that she misjudged man and can’t live without him.

She can’t get away from him either. His name is Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) and not only was he one of Grady’s best friends, he’s also crashing at the house Grady shared with Sam (Kevin Smith) and Dennis (Sam Jaeger)—the same house Gray has moved into in an effort to find some semblance of a normal life again—while he helps wrap up Grady’s loose ends.

That Frtiz and Gray fall in love with each other far too quickly is one of the film’s weakest points. We would have been able to accept their romance, but there was no need to bring it on so strong and so quick. Sketchy revelations about a late fiancée do not an excuse for amorous haste make.

And yes, in case you thought you read it wrong, that was Kevin Smith listed above, the same foul-mouthed Kevin Smith who is the director of such edgy classics as Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. What is perhaps most (least?) surprising is that he walks away with the film, a consistently funny and delightfully endearing character. Juliette Lewis, however, is miscast in one of Catch and Release’s (numerous) subplots (hint: it involves fiancée Grady’s shadowy past) as Maureen, a New Age massage therapist with a young son in tow. Unlike Smith, she does very little to make herself endearing and yet is befriended unconvincingly by the principles in spite of it. The same cannot be said for the audience.

By the conclusion of the film, Catch and Release transformed itself from a risk-taking romantic comedy with a darkly humorous lining into a stereotypically syrupy outing that works very well in part but fails as a coherent whole. It’s a shame too. There was definite potential here.

Still, on some level, I have to admit to liking the film in spite of myself. It was probably just the Fat Tire.


Anonymous Theron Walker said...

You didn't like Daredevil and Electra? I loved em, but I have a hankering for comic book movies. Alias never did anything for me. I just can't get into shows that have conspiricies inside of conspiricies. They get so twisted, that I loose interest.

I will look forward to seeing Kevin Smith at work. I'm from upstate NY, grew up playing street hockey, and loved Clerks. So, Jennifer Garner and "You hate people. But I love gatherings" in a Pride and Prejudice story line. I'm there. My good opinion once lost...

9:37 AM  

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