Just what would you do if your fiancé died in a tragic skiing accident? Chances are your first choice wouldn’t be to move in with his layabout pal and uptight, nervy roommate who’s always had a crush on you. But thanks to the plot machinations of Erin Brockovich writer Susannah Grant’s first attempt at wielding the megaphone, that’s exactly the position in which Jennifer Garner’s Gray Wheeler finds herself.
But thank goodness for that ensemble – because there’s not much else keeping Catch And Release afloat. While Garner is able to wring plenty of performance from a role that mostly requires her to be blubbery, outraged or caring, the romantic aspects of the film are easily the weakest. Timothy Olyphant as another of Garner’s dead fiancé’s pals isn’t much help. Despite bags of easy charm, he looks like he’d much rather be striding down the streets of TV’s Deadwood; the pair’s (inevitably) initially antagonistic relationship is signposted better than the M25.
The real revelation here is the supporting cast, with top honours going to Kevin Smith. Happily grabbing at the chance to chuck out his script pages and re-imagine kind-hearted slob pal Sam as a version of himself, Smith shows the sort of flair for spot-on comic acting usually saved for his own films’ screenplays. He might as well be cramming every scene he appears in into a bag and running off into the night. Juliette Lewis turns up playing a variation on the sort of hippy-dippy chick she’s long since perfected – complete with annoying child – but she fills what could have been a cliché in tight shorts with enough emotional resonance to avoid feeling wasted. Even poor Sam Jaeger, lumbered with the part of moony Dennis, gets to display some descent comic chops inbetween all the moping.
But despite fishing in some interesting waters with the traumatic fall out from Garner’s fiancé’s death, Grant is unable to give the rom the same amount of fresh sparkle as the com. Catch And Release ends up feeling like an underpowered love-fest has walked in on the middle of a superior comedy. While there’s never a hint that things won’t turn out according to every genre convention, the ride to the finish is at least an entertaining one, even if Garner needs a little help from her friends.