Manic-depressives need romantic comedies too, and for them there's Catch and Release, one of the weirdest, mopiest date movies to come down the pike in a long time. Mixing cutesy quips with suicide attempts and beautiful scenery with unbearable mourning, writer Susannah Grant's directorial debut is not your average chick flick. But if you choose to see it, don't be surprised if you're overcome by a strong desire to rent anything featuring Sandra Bullock, a makeover scene set to Van Morrison or a clearly defined plot.
The movie is what you'd get if you crossed the arrested-adolescent hijinks of last year's Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle Failure to Launch with the somber seriousness of something like In the Bedroom. Set against postcard-perfect views of Boulder, Colo., the film chronicles the stop-and-start grieving process of Gray (the wan Jennifer Garner), a young woman whose imminent wedding is pre-empted by the news that her fiance has died in a boating accident. Stuck with a house she can't afford and a truckload of wedding gifts to remind her of what could've been, Gray moves in with her fiance's slacker buddies (Sam Jaeger and Clerks director Kevin Smith) and navigates a tenuous friendship with in-town-for-the-funeral playboy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant).
Of course, they're all secretly pining for the once-spunky Gray, a romantic tension that Grant flips on and off like a light switch whenever the movie seems to be losing its way (which is often). When she's not moodily toying with the hearts of three men, Gray is obsessing over the revelation that her fiance was paying alimony to his mistress Maureen (Juliette Lewis), a kooky Californian massage therapist who shows up to find out what had happened to the checks.
Catch and Release is one of those movies where you start to feel sympathy for the poor soul who had to cobble together a coherent trailer out of a muddled, meandering movie. Grant's strength as a writer (Erin Brockovich, In Her Shoes) has always been her ability to let real-life messiness intrude on stock situations, but that strength turns out to be her failing as a director. Just when you think the film is building to some sort of conflict or confrontation, the filmmaker has the characters go fishing or throw a dinner party or take a walk in the park, all of it underscored by an arbitrary acoustic-guitar score that burbles to the surface at the most unexpected moments. Watching the movie is kind of like being drugged with heavy sedatives and dragged to the Lilith Fair.
Certainly, there are worse ways to spend two hours than to bask in the glow of Boulder in the summertime. And when Lewis enters the picture, there's a brief, intermittent spark of life, a genuine, unforced insanity that the rest of the movie lacks. Lewis also has a couple terrific scenes with Smith that make you wish the movie would forget about everyone else and follow their subplot. But time and again, you're taken back to close-ups of Garner's pouty, inscrutable face, and those swollen lips that look they were punched or slapped just before the cameras started rolling. Come to think of it, a feature-length documentary about Garner's lip care would be way more interesting than the entirety of Catch and Release.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.