Catch and Release is most certainly the worst film of 2006. In fact, there could be convincing argument made that it is one of the worst movies of all time. That it somehow managed to attract such an array of diverse talent, and was marketed as a feminine romantic comedy, will confound viewers to no end.
Jennifer Garner (so pretty, so vacuous), plays Gray Wheeler, a non-descript nice girl living in Boulder who is about to get married. Was about to get married, actually. In the beginning of the movie, there is an almost immediate onslaught of a cheesy “wedding that never happened” montage (flowers being taken back, caterers packing up, etc.). We learn that Gray’s mysterious fiancée Grady somehow died on the night of his bachelor party.
Stumbling around in a haze, Gray begins this uneven movie allegedly drenched in grief. She cannot handle the hugs and kind words of the funeral set—which is handled, again, in a series of low-budget montages. She retreats to—Lord knows why—the bathtub and sits there contemplating life, behind the shower curtain. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to, I don’t know, lock the door. Fritz (Timothy Olyphant, showing zero range), Grady’s sleaze ball best friend (tritely, Fritz’s profession is “filmmaker”; and he’s from big, bad Los Angeles to boot!), ducks into the restroom with a waitress for a quickie.
While the idea of having a wait staff at a funeral seems smart enough, the idea of guests shagging them in the toilet during your best friend’s funeral seems a little bit, well, nasty. This, combined with his profession and where he lives, is how we are supposed to know that Fritz is bad. Director/Screenwriter Susannah Grant (in a spectacularly awful directorial debut) ratchets up the “ick” factor by forcing Grady to be hidden away in the bathtub during her fiancées funeral while this Californian horn-dog does his business mere feet away. Amazingly, insultingly, over the course of the next two overly long hours, we are expected to believe that these two characters are going to fall in love (!). With each other.
Since Gray can’t afford to live in the pricey rental that she and her deceased hubby-to-be were about to start sharing, she moves into his former residence—a distaff version of a frat house, with his other best friends Dennis (Sam Jaeger), and Sam (director Kevin Smith, hitting an all-time low). The three sit around; reminisce about Grady, take pills, and drink. It turns out that Grady wasn’t the squeaky-clean guy they all thought he was; he was a bit of a sleaze himself.
When Grady would visit Fritz in California, he would also visit dippy New Age masseuse Maureen (Juliette Lewis—whatever happened to her?). To complicate matters even further, we are thrown another red herring: Maureen had Grady’s child Mattie (a wily Joshua Friesen). The single mother was being sent monthly support checks on the down low, and once Grady dies, she comes looking for her checks.
This all happens within the first half-hour or so in the film, which leaves plenty more time for everyone to get acquainted. Gray doesn’t seem to really be all that upset that her dead fiancée had another family living somewhere else. In fact, she thinks it noble that he would take care of his adorable son. Of course, she is also busy having clandestine sex with Fritz in her dead lover’s bed, and sitting down for awkward dinners with the woman he secretly had an affair and a child with.
During one of these dinners, Gray (who Maureen has declared “perfect”) lists all of the devilish things she has ever done. The list includes having a deep desire to see people die in natural disasters en masse, and “making it with a girl”—to which she is asked the wildly offensive question “were you the bitch or the butch?” The odious implausibility just keeps stacking up after this, mainly because of Grant’s wooden script.
With her script for Erin Brockovich, Grant was able to capitalize on the title character’s huge personality and combine it with the superstar virtuosity of Julia Roberts. With the smart and underrated Curtis Hanson film In Her Shoes, Grant’s script came to life mainly because of deft performances by Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine. Here she is saddled with a group of relative amateurs compared with her previous outings, and the film suffers. To be fair, not even Roberts or Diaz could have worked their magic and saved this predictable mess from unfurling in such a disastrous way.
The kooky, rag-tag mob decides it would be best to band together in their grief, to stomach-churning effect. Sam bonds with little Mattie and the two walk around and share a variety of obnoxious life lessons (mainly to do with fly-fishing—one of the film’s lame motifs). Towards the end of the film, it becomes clear that the dead man’s friend’s feel some sort of sense of entitlement to the two women he left behind. Dennis has not been able to have a relationship in the six years he has known Gray, and professes his love to her; Fritz falls in love with Gray and begins a sexual affair with her mere days after Grady dies; and Sam takes over as Maureen’s paramour. The two seem to be destined for one another: after all, Sam works for Celestial Seasonings Tea Company, while Maureen is an avid herbal tea drinker. Oh, how cute!
Grant seems to be eager to write big Hollywood scripts with multiple female characters, but with this one, she takes a complete misstep—Catch and Release is almost offensive to women. It basically says that women can’t really take care of themselves, and should their partners die, it’s OK for the ladies to shack up with their deceased beloveds’ living best friends. Grant’s work here proves that a successful screenwriter doesn’t necessarily make a successful film director. If the constant barrage of montage sequences doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
Garner, though bankable and mildly charming at times, doesn’t have the emotional range to play a character like Gray. Mainly, she struts around all pouty-lipped; with eyes blinking, and coy. She’s a terrific comedic performer, but there isn’t really anything funny for her to do in Catch and Release except mope around and whine.
If the film had settled into and decided on a prevailing mood, the performers may have had a better chance at creating believable or even likable characters. As it stands, not a single actor comes out of this jumble unscathed. Lewis (so great in the early ‘90s, what happened?) is saddled with a stock dumb California hippy blonde role, Olyphant keeps on playing the same ne’er do well in every film he does, and Smith flat-out embarrasses himself. The tradition of directors making the switch to performers is a long-standing one that should seriously be re-evaluated after Smith’s unfortunate turn here. It’s as painful to watch Smith acting as it is to sit through the assault that is the film. Nothing makes sense.