After the death of her fiancé Grady, Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) finds herself at his funeral on what would have been their wedding day. As the two were never married, Gray isn’t eligible to inherit any of Grady’s money, including a rather sizable sum he had in a secret account. She’s unable to maintain the rent on the house they had just moved into together, so she is forced to move in with two of Grady’s closest friends, Sam (Kevin Smith) and Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who are also hosting Grady’s best friend from California, Frtiz (Timothy Olyphant). Gray struggles to come to terms with who Grady really was and what he hid from her during their relationship while finding herself falling in love with someone else.
Catch and Release is not a rom-com that breaks the mold or adds anything new to the genre, but its lack of originality is saved by the cast. Jennifer Garner is as likable as ever as a grieving woman who is on the path to her own self-discovery after her fiancé’s secret life comes to light. Kevin Smith gives one of the film’s strongest performances as Sam, a depressed slacker who hides his own grief behind humor. Juliette Lewis takes what could have been an extremely obnoxious character and gives her just the right amount of humor and charm to make her someone you could root for and sympathize with.
Timothy Olyphant is one of my favorite actors and his chemistry with Garner in this movie is off the charts. It’s obvious from the beginning that Gray views Fritz has a man-child philanderer, the complete opposite of Grady, but as they spend more time together and their relationship deepens, it becomes clear that Gray didn’t know who Fritz truly was any more than she knew Grady. Their blossoming romance never felt forced or rushed to me. I had wondered if Gray would possibly come across as an insensitive, unappealing character, moving on from her dead fiancé so quickly and into the arms of his best friend, but the movie does a good job with expressing Grady’s complexity through his friends, through the mother of his secret son and through Gray’s perception of him. Director and writer Susannah Grant never tries to turn Grady into a terrible human being in order to justify Gray’s actions. Instead, it’s easy to understand that while Grady loved Gray, he was not perfect. And while Gray loved him, she came to realize that she couldn’t have loved who he truly was, because she never truly knew that person. And maybe Grady never truly knew Gray either.
The movie did feel a little long at times and there were a few scenes here and there not entirely essential to the plot that could have probably been cut to trim down the runtime. A subplot where Dennis secretly, and then not so secretly, expresses feelings for Gray felt a bit like overkill, considering Fritz was also falling in love with Gray. It was an unnecessary plot device to create a catalyst for Gray and Fritz to experience conflict and then separation. For me, the fact that Gray’s dead fiancé was also Fritz’s best friend felt like enough conflict in itself and I’m a bit disappointed that particular angle wasn’t explored more. Dealing with grief and guilt, the heart versus the head is far more interesting to me than a bland love triangle where there is are no real emotional stakes.
I’m not entirely sure I would have enjoyed Catch and Release as much as I did had the two leads been anyone but Olyphant and Garner. They certainly added some heat and a desperately needed spark to a movie that at times felt too long, and maybe a tad too uneven. I would watch it again just for their romance alone.