When Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) discovers her fiancé, Grady, has died while partaking in some death-defying act or another on his bachelor trip, she awakens from the shock to find her world, and his three best friends, in shambles. Together, Gray, Dennis (Sam Jaeger), and Sam (Kevin Smith), prepare for the funeral. With the wedding now a distant dream, Gray settles into the comfort of her fiancé’s friends, sleeping in friendly quarters while mending fresh wounds.
Starting with the wall color, “Marrakesh Morning,” Gray begins stripping away the pain, by making herself a new life. Meanwhile, Sam, Dennis, and longtime friend Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) take to drinking, sleeping, crying, philosophizing, and doing the typical “guy” things expected of friends in mourning.
Soon enough, however, remnants of an unknown past of Gray’s perfect fiancé begin popping up, starting with random phone calls from a mysterious woman and threats about… child support? Expectedly upset, Gray begins searching for clues as to the legitimacy of the allegations, probing at Grady’s friends for answers. But Dennis is knee-deep in mourning, while Sam is doing his best to be hyper-responsible about the administrative contingencies of death, and Fritz, well Fritz is just downright mischievous and unpredictable; his bathroom rendezvous with a guest at Grady’s funeral didn’t help make a good impression, either.
So, Gray is left to uncover the harsh reality, namely through Fritz himself, that an unexpected affair between Grady and an exotic dancer back in L.A., Maureen (Juliette Lewis), which led to the birth of one charming little boy, Mattie. Maureen appears and definitely complicates Gray’s mental processing of her deceased fiancé’s “hidden alternative life,” asking about Grady’s whereabouts, and where is her usual child support check. Upon discovering Grady’s death, however, Maureen settles on trying to get to know Grady's friends, eventually confronting Gray as "the other woman.” Needless to say, things were awkward for a bit as the new-agey Maureen attempts to make good with the perfect, do-good Gray Wheeler.
Meanwhile, Gray finds comfort in the most unexpected of places: one of Grady’s best friends. As the five grown ups take to camping, fishing, and recounting old tales, Gray begins to fall for one unsuspecting Fritz. But with the guilty conscious typical of an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, Gray continues to hide her “so-soon after the death” rendezvous. Meanwhile, Sam decides to attempt warming that ol’ flame for Gray, now that Grady can no longer take care of her. And then there’s Dennis: well, the tea-box mantra writer finds interest in the quirky ways of one Maureen and her undeniably adorable son. Complicating things, however, is Grady’s conservative elitist mother, whose gall and insensitivity create even more awkwardness for the struggling Gray. A chaos of miscommunication, love trysts, and funky food finds its way into the plot before Fritz and Gray are exposed and restitution is afforded. Happily ever after? You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
As far as romantic comedies go, “Catch and Release” is unexpectedly touching and poignantly poetic. It delivers on levels not foreseen and, though one might want to find faults, this proves there are still gems buried in the expected debris of Hollywood budgeting and scripting. Jennifer Garner, as always, plays the charming, cut above average, irresistible “girl next door,” whose down-home innocence is perfect for the role of Gray Wheeler. Equally irresistible is Timothy Olyphant as Fritz, the precarious goody but baddy; or is that baddy but goody? Either way, he’s charming and from start to finish you await delivery on the “as of yet” undelivered plot line between Gray and Fritz.
If the romantic thing isn’t enough to keep you going—though, we promise, Garner and Olyphant’s authentic charm are a cut above the predictable cookbook performances this genre necessitates, Kevin Smith is simply hilarious as Sam: (which is completely expected from his comic genius). No pretense, no effects, just pure, simple affect: comedy. Together, he and Sam Jaeger manage to finish off the trio of brokenhearted friends who’s combination of “three musketeering” sincere retrospect filter in those genuine “guy moments” that are much needed in a film like this. Between camping, fishing, and drunken reveries, Fritz, Dennis, Sam and Gray become the three best friends every guy, and gal, wish they had. Meanwhile, Juliette Lewis appears on scene to add the dash of quirk, so typical of her eclectic style: she’s funny in that sexy, but weird and yet genuinely wholesome kind of way.
“Catch and Release” is as sweet as it is simple, simply good that is. It’s a feel good film that will make you laugh, and who knows, you might even cry. Great scenery, thanks to a stellar film location and good cinematography. That combined with a solid script and pleasantly competent and charming cast, makes “Catch and Release” a must-see the next time you’re looking to stay in and snuggle up. Hot cocoa is recommended.