When I first sat down to watch 'Catch & Release' for this review, I wasn't familiar with the film's titular term. But as I soon discovered, it describes a socially-conscious philosophy among some fishermen that is becoming more widely accepted. It advocates that fish can be caught, but should then be let back into the waters to again roam free. For some it has also come to represent a larger, more peaceful worldview -- one that suggests that we can never truly capture nor contain any of nature's wonders.
Knowing this, it may be obvious, then, what angle a romantic comedy called 'Catch & Release' would choose to take toward human nature and the often lofty ideals that undermine our attempts at partnerships. It's a life lesson as homespun as a Hallmark card: you can't hold onto love, or control it -- you can only hope to catch it, release it, and if comes back to you... only then is it real.
Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) is about to learn this universal truth. When we first meet her, she has the unfortunate task of burying her late fiancee, Grady, only days before their wedding. Now all alone in the sleepy arts community of Boulder, Colorado, with an expensive mortgage and mounting debt, she's forced to rebuild her life. Naturally, her family and co-workers all rush to her aid, but ultimately she's only able to find true solace in Grady's three best fishing buddies: Dennis (Sam Jaeger) is the dependable one -- always there to offer a helping hand, although he also secretly harbors a long-standing romantic love for Gray; Sam (Kevin Smith) is the "festively plump," immature frat boy; and then there is Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), a recent Los Angeles transplant who sticks out in a sore thumb in Boulder, and seems like the absolute last person Gray would fall for.
Of course, this is a chick flick, so from the moment Gray and Fritz meet, we know exactly what is going to happen. 'Catch & Release' treads fairly familiar genre ground, even if it the proceedings are more somber than is typical. Most romantic comedies involve a series of uncovered secrets that will shed new light on our heroine's understanding of her supposed soulmate. The turning point in 'Catch & Release' is the surprise arrival of the "quirky" Maureen (Juliette Lewis) and her young son Mattie (Joshua Friesen), who looks suspiciously like Grady. Things get more complicated when it is revealed that Fritz may have known more about Grady's secrets then he ever let on.
Screenwriter Susannah Grant ('Ever After,' 'In Her Shoes') makes her directorial debut with 'Catch & Release,' and while she generally adheres to expected conventions, she does manage at least two unique twists on such an oft-told tale.
Most prominently, while most films of this sort waste time introducing the deadbeat husband-to-be just so that our protagonist can become disillusioned and break up with him, in this case, Gray's journey of romantic re-evaluation is unusual in that it happens after the fact. The fact that we never see Grady (even in flashback) frees the film up from silly comic contrivances and inflated Lifetime movie-of-the-week melodrama, and allows Grant to focus squarely on Gray's story -- a move that pays small but sweet dividends, especially given Garner's inherent likeability. We're always sympathetic to her internal plight, and -- free from thematic distraction -- 'Catch & Release' has the natural, unadorned quality of a character piece. That's rare even for a chick flick these days, which all seem to star Cameron Diaz acting ditzy again, or Sandra Bullock catching her cheating ex-husband with psychic powers.
'Catch & Release' is also noteworthy in that Gray has, in some ways, a love affair with each of the three men (even if it is not always physical). Of course, we know in an instant that she'll fall for Fritz, which in every way makes theirs the least satisfying relationship in the film. But it is Gray's interactions with Dennis and Sam that are truly subtle and illuminating -- enough so that it's a genuine shame Grant that didn't really fly in the face of convention and pair Garner up with Kevin Smith instead.
Ultimately, 'Catch & Release' may be the most gentle "chick flick" I've ever seen. It's likeable, warm and reassuring -- a drama about incredibly painful romantic entanglements, yet one without a single acerbic bone in its body. But like one of those feel-good CDs sold at your local Starbucks, while it's impossible to hate, the film's persistent geniality is also somewhat difficult to embrace. Still, Grant shows a real, growing talent behind the camera, and if she continues to explore the more complex shadings of her chosen genre, she may have a genuine classic in her one day yet.
'Catch & Release' probably won't get much credit for visual pizzazz, but it's really quite a wonderfully-photographed picture. The film was shot on location in Boulder, Colorado and Vancouver, Canada, and as seen through the lens of director of photography John Lindley, the natural beauty shines through even brighter than Jennifer Garner's high-wattage smile.
Sony offers up another 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer, and it's lovely. The source is absolutely impeccable, boasting a clean, grain-free image that doesn't look too artificial. The film's color palette is awash in earth tones, from the beautiful browns and greens of the location scenery to the Garner's character's penchant for painting all her interiors the colors of a Crate & Barrel catalog. But color reproduction is very smooth, with a lush, perfectly balanced presentation. I was also impressed with the level of detail and depth, with the image never looking less than three-dimensional.
But as good as this transfer is, it's still not perfect. Black crush is a problem -- right from the opening sequence at the funeral, the textures of the mourners' black costumes simply disappear completely into the shadows. Such harsh fall-off on the dark end of the grayscale certainly helps give the image pop, but the loss of shadow delineation is arguably not worth it. The image is also so sharp that it's almost distracting -- it teeters on the brink of being an edge-enhanced disaster, but somehow manages to stay a millimeter on the right side of the line. Still, I noticed a bit of shimmer on occasion, which (combined with the black crush) knocks this one down a half a star for video. Otherwise, 'Catch & Release' really looks great.
Unlike its surprisingly attractive transfer, 'Catch & Release' does not boast attention-getting sound design. However, it is still an absolutely pleasing aural presentation, with another rock solid uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (at 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mpbs) courtesy of Sony.
The sonic charms of 'Catch & Release' are certainly subtle. Ambiance is minor but quite consistent, with nice use of the surrounds during outdoor location scenes, and more rowdy interiors. The light folky-rock tunes on the soundtrack also benefit nicely from some rear heft, and they keep the proceedings from ever getting too dull. Dynamics are excellent across-the-board, with rich and natural mid- and high-tones and strong bass that is appropriate to the material. Finally, dialogue reproduction is never a problem, with all of the actors distinct and volume balance never a problem. A simple but effective mix.
'Catch & Release' comes to Blu-ray day-and-date with the standard-def DVD release, yet for once, they don't share matching supplements -- the Blu-ray actually receives superior treatment. Combined, the Blu-ray is a pretty straightforward package, yet it adds a number of featurettes (see the next section below) above and beyond the streamlined DVD extras.
Shared with the standard-def release are two audio commentaries, both featuring writer/director Susannah Grant, who is joined on track one by actor Kevin Smith, and on the second by director of photography John Lindley. Even if you don't like her movie, it's hard not to come away a fan, as she proves on both tracks just how articulate and insightful a filmmaker she really is. Many of her comments and choices could easily be seen as pretentious, but she presents her reasoning so passionately that even her more obvious storytelling devices seem defensible. Kevin Smith, meanwhile, is ably restrained, managing to not dominate as he often does on the zillion other commentaries he's recorded for his own movies. And his genuine expression of gratitude to have been cast in a film for the first time as a "real" actor (complete with audition tape, see below) is charming. The second track is more technical, but even with cinematographer Lindley sometimes bordering on the bland, Grant enlightens on both larger-scope production issues and more minute details.
And that's it.
'Catch & Release' may not be the most romantic chick flick ever made, or the most dramatic. But it is a very likable, earnest and very well-made entry in an overdone genre, featuring a strong cast and perceptive writing. This Blu-ray release is surprisingly impressive, boasting with a wonderful transfer, nice soundtrack and satisfying supplements. If nothing else, give it a rent.