Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews *Catch and Release*

The film Catch and Release was written by the Hollywood screenwriting hot commodity Susannah Grant (her most famous film was *Erin Brockovich*, but ok, fine, Grant is not a commodity to me). This film is listed as a romantic comedy-drama, which is a lot of bases to cover. Me, I was just hoping the film would keep us awake long enough to not be a bad babysitter (I cannot be dissauded from my position that a sleeping babysitter is irresponsible, despite many parents' insistance that they themselves sleep from time to time).

So I stayed conscious, and *Catch* did have it's bright spots, but this film was lacking some key ingredients of a comedy, while being way too ambitious about life-truths that, in the end, the conventions of the genre couldn't follow through on. Romance, there was, and if by drama you mean relentless pounding sadness then, ok, that too.

This movie is about a woman whose fiance dies right before their wedding. Said woman is played by the beautiful and talented Jennifer Garner, who was such an amusing spectacle in 13 Going on 30. I haven't seen most of the stuff that made her famous (I believe there was a sci-fi show on TV??) but I do like Garner, and there's nothing not to like her performance in *Catch*--she puts her all into her scenes, and she has perfected a dozen different casts of misery: pathetic, defiant, ironic, rueful, resigned--the list goes on and on.

Death is not even the worst of it, it turns out, since after his passing, Grady's (that's the finance; Garner's character's name is Grey, and the combination is obnoxious) dirty little secrets start coming to light. He was not pillar of love and faithfulness that Grey thought, and he's left her with an impossible mess to sort out. And his old friend Fritz (another obnoxious name!) seems not to care at all, has sex with a stranger at the funeral, and is the only one who knows the whole truth about Grady's secret life.

This film is obviously lacking a few key ingredients of a comedy. Only two characters have any witty lines, and Grant spends most of her store of wit on the very worthy Kevin Smith. Smith plays the goofy slacker roommate of the dead guy, the sort of charming f*ckup in a bathrobe that every Judd Apatow movie has. And Smith revels in physical comedy with flyfishing gear, kitchen appliances, and small children. He gets almost every laugh in the picture, but such is the relentless downnote tone of the thing that even his character attempts suicide.

By that point, it was pretty clear that *Catch* is a "thesis" movie, and the thesis is that people are complicated, that they have more than one adjective, and that no matter how well we think we know someone, there are still details that will escape us. If the goofy guy with the ardent to make enormous sandwiches in the waffle iron also harbours deep pain and strong sense of responsibility, well, then, everyone must have a panopoly of characteristics.

A worthy premise. Except the movie is also struggling to be a romantic comedy where everyone pairs off and lives Happily Ever After, and the HEA ending precludes that kind of complexity. So instead of presenting Grady as a kind and loving fiance AND a guy who made some mistakes, the film shows us only the mistakes and has people occasionally mention, "He was a great guy." Ditto Grey, who is just as kind and sweet and vulnerable and pretty as can be, lacking flaws, failures, or even a particularly sharp tongue in the face of incredible betrayal.

We need to have Grady be pretty entirely evil, and Grey be pretty entirely good, so that when Fritz changes his ways and is so kind to Gray that she falls in love with him a couple weeks after Grady's death, she's not doing a bad thing. And thus, even drunk and disorderly yet secretly kind and tender Fritz loses out on the chance to be a complex, conflicted individual. He's just a good guy at heart, after all.

Grant's screenplay never addresses what made Fritz behave badly, and we see no evidence that he ever even thinks about doing so again. Nor do we learn how Grey and Grady's relationship worked around such enormous dishonesty, and how she's changed as a result of her discoveries.

They're just good people who made a few errors in judgment but, if the end of the film is any guide, they will never ever make any more. They embrace on a beach with a dog running around their ankles. They are Happy, and about to be so forever after.

I *hate* stories that apparently contain the only interesting thing that ever happened to the characters. I hate stories where you are supposed to feel like you know every single thing that happened after the final page, which is why the story doesn't need to be any longer. Why invest so much energy in imagining characters and lives and dogs and everything if you're just going to shut it down after 90 minutes and say, "Then everything was perfect"??

Obviously, I am questioning the very foundations of the rom-com genre, and the truth is, sometimes when I feel life is very difficult and I am tired, I find romantic comedy math comforting, ie., you just need these few ingredients (love, dog, house at the beach) and then you will be happy UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD.

But this film aimed at so much more and then so cheerfully didn't achieve it, that it makes me feel bad. In the end, I felt that real complex Gray and Fritz were going to make a terrible couple and never acknowledge it, just like Gray and Grady had been. I felt like the ending was just faking. Which is of course a terrible way to feel about a movie that was supposed to be a comforting lark.

But Kevin Smith = awwwww, the big lug!!

So here's another day / I'll spend away from you

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