Case Number 11342


Sony // 2007 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 8th, 2007

The Charge

Life is messy. Love is messier.

Opening Statement

The writer of Erin Brockovich directs, the director of Mallrats acts, and Jennifer Garner finally grows up.

Facts of the Case

Thirtysomething Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner, 13 Going on 30) has just lost her fiancée Grady in a freak accident, and is left to be cared for by his two best friends, Dennis (Sam Jaeger, Lucky Number Slevin) and Sam (Kevin Smith, Clerks II). As if her life weren't already totally upside down, a new woman arrives in town (played by Juliette Lewis of Crooked Hearts) with a child she claims is Grady's, and a friend of Grady's that she never liked (Timothy Olyphant, The Girl Next Door) proves to be something more than she expected. As Gray begins to learn more about two men she thought she already knew, she discovers that people are not always who you think they are. Life is funny that way.

The Evidence

There's been a discussion around the back porch of the Verdict lately as to whether or not critics "matter." To believe that they do not is up to the individual. And that's all that criticism really is, after all -- the opinion of one individual. It may be a more educated or enlightened or better-articulated opinion, but it is ultimately just that. If an individual is so confident in his or her own opinion that he/she doesn't feel compelled to seek out or listen to outside sources, so be it. I suppose critics wouldn't matter to those people.

But when I see a film like Catch and Release, which was confusingly marketed and largely unseen during its theatrical run, it makes me think that yes, critics can matter. (They don't have to, but they can.) As fans of film, we're forever finding those movies that speak to us individually and trying to turn others on to them; it's part of the communal experience of sharing a love for film. And now my position as a critic allows me a larger platform to share that affection -- to steer readers towards this quiet movie that they may not have even heard of, or would have otherwise ignored. ("The chick from Alias? Fly fishing? No thanks.") In a marketplace flooded with films that are so genre- and demographic-specific -- where you know exactly what you're going to get -- a movie like this can be a breath of fresh air. It's not the most original film ever made (I don't intend to sell it as such), but it is unpretentious and, in its own way, unique.

That can also make the movie difficult to recommend; there's little that one can point to and say "If you like that movie and that movie, you'll like this movie." The tagline to Catch and Release is accurate -- this is a messy movie about the messy subjects of friendship, love, and loss. It's a movie in which characters have long, complex histories with one another, and have to work things out with actual conversation. It's not a mistake that the Garner character is named Gray (in fact, it's rather on the nose and too much a writer's conceit); this is a movie in which there is no black and white. People are flawed, but not evil. People make mistakes, but we do not stop loving them. People are not who we think they are, but perhaps it's because we have not allowed ourselves to actually know them. It's a movie filled with a number of small questions about some pretty big subjects. It's also really charming and likeable and, until an ending that feels too tacked-on and neatly conventional, pleasantly surprising. It's the kind of movie one can get lost in.

Billy Wilder was famous for believing in the idea of giving audiences 2 plus 2 and letting them come up with "4"; as a writer, Grant seems to subscribe to this belief. There's not much in Catch and Release that's simply handed to us. Characters do not always say everything they're thinking -- they only react, and it is up to us to read it on their faces. One rather excellent scene, immediately after two characters have kissed for the first time, takes place entirely without dialogue. It's a conversation of looks. Even the fate of Grady, Gray's fiancée, is never explicitly stated. This may bother some viewers, who want to be told exactly how he died. Why? What difference does it make? He is gone, and it is sudden and unexpected. That's all that matters.

Jennifer Garner demonstrates here that she's not just a movie star, but a bona fide actress. 13 Going on 30 already proved that she can carry a movie, but that role required little more of her than being adorable and looking wide-eyed or amazed at every person, place, and thing she encountered (for the record, she was 13 -- not a Martian). Catch and Release gives the star her most fully-formed character to date, and Garner is up to the challenge. It might have been easy to play Gray as too perfect or too much a victim of circumstance, but Garner doesn't do that -- she lets the character find her own way. Timothy Olyphant is cast against type; he's not often given the chance to play the romantic leading man (Seth Bullock be damned). The film recognizes this and uses that to its advantage, making us every bit as wary of Olyphant's Fritz as Gray, and allowing us to get to know the character beyond our initial impressions. The movie's most unusual (and canniest -- there's an audience who will check this movie out based solely on his participation) bit of casting, though, is Clerks director Kevin Smith as Sam, the best friend. Sure, Smith is essentially playing himself (fast-talking lovable fat guy), but that allows him to deliver a relaxed, assured, and funny performance. He may not have a ton of range (though he does get to play a few dramatic moments and acquits himself nicely), but his performance here works.

Sony's DVD of Catch and Release offers viewers the choice of watching the film either full frame or in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. While it's nice that they haven't gone and released two totally separate discs, the full frame version is pretty unnecessary; the movie's framing and photography all but demand the widescreen version. Still, there are those folks who prefer to "have their whole TVs used" (even if it's with only half an image), and this disc gives them the option. Petty aspect ratio squabbling aside, the transfer is quite nice, and the 5.1 audio track delivers the dialogue clearly while balancing out the indie-pop soundtrack (the songs are good, but overused).

The only extras included alongside the film are a pair of commentary tracks, but they're a valuable inclusion and far more satisfactory than the usual press kit materials. The first track is with writer/director Grant and costar Kevin Smith (who is something of a master of the commentary track). It's a terrific talk, though not entirely about the film; a large chuck of the track is dedicated to Grant explaining how she got her start and the projects she's worked on in the past. Smith acts as her interviewer, in a way, and really seems to know where to take the discussion; based on this track and his talk with Richard Kelly on the Donnie Darko: Director's Cut disc, Smith could have a future simply moderating director commentaries on DVDs. The second track features Grant and her director of photography, John Lindley. Theirs is a far more technical talk, as can be expected, but still worth listening to. It's also further proof of just how important the film's outdoor photography is. In talking to Smith, Grant acknowledges that she wanted to make a film in which the characters had some connection to nature, because that's not often seen. She's right, too -- most writers would have set a film like Catch and Release inside a series of swank urban apartments.

Closing Statement

Maybe my affection for Catch and Release is totally individualized and subjective, but that's all I can report on -- my personal feelings about a film. If you've read my other reviews, or if I'm someone you find yourself agreeing with more than half the time, perhaps you can make a decision as to whether or not you're interested in the movie. It's not perfect, but Catch and Release is the kind of film we don't see enough of. It's smartly written, well acted, and gorgeously photographed. It's about adults, and it treats the viewer like an adult. In a better world, Catch and Release might be the cinematic norm. In this one it's something special.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2007 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 65
Acting: 89
Story: 80
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

* English
* French

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary with Susannah Grant and Kevin Smith
* Commentary with Susannah Grant and John Lindley
* Bonus Trailers

* IMDb

* Official Site