After Jennifer Garner broke out to audiences playing Sydney Bristow, the tough, capable, iron-willed CIA agent in ABC’s hit thriller series Alias, Hollywood took note. Of course, Hollywood saw her masterful starring portrayal of an international badass master of disguise and immediately started casting her as the love interest to random flavor of the month leading men. Though she had made a few film appearances, like being a love interest in the cult stoner comedy Dude, Where’s My Car? and a love interest in the Leslie Nielsen 1997 comedy Mr. Magoo, her film career began concurrently with Alias. Admittedly, some of these early movies weren’t bad 13 Going on 30 has become a beloved staple of sleepovers, and the one-two shudder of Daredevil and Elektra had the good sense to make her an ass-kicking ninja-trained fighter. Catch and Release is not one of these. The 2006 romantic comedy-drama film starring Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant is an odd low point for everyone concerned, but it also is currently in the top five most-streamed films on Netflix. So let’s get into it.
Jennifer Garner stars in Catch and Release as Gray Wheeler. From the very beginning of the film, she is distraught and weeping, but there is a pretty good reason: she is attending the funeral of her fiance Grady, which was scheduled for the day they were supposed to be married. This is a good moment to pause and decide if you are really invested in Catch and Release, and can suspend your disbelief enough to think there was no possible other option than to schedule a funeral for the maximum possible tragic poetic irony in a woman’s life. We are quickly introduced to Jennifer Garner’s friends Dennis (Sam Jaeger) and Sam (Kevin Smith, somehow managing to wedge in a tasteless lesbian joke), both of whom will be comedic relief for the remainder of the movie. We are also introduced to Timothy Olyphant as Fritz, the best friend of the late Grady. We know that he is a bad guy (who will likely turn out to have a heart of gold) because he works filming commercials in Los Angeles, has carefully shaggy early-2000s hair, and smokes inside. Also, he has loud sex with a random woman in the bathroom at his best friend’s funeral, while Jennifer Garner hides in the bathtub behind a closed shower curtain.
Aside from the offscreen death of Jennifer Garner’s fiance, the real premise of Catch and Release is discovering the things you don’t know about the people you love. In this case, it turns out the departed Grady not only had a million-dollar investment account that he never told Garner about, he has been paying $3000 a month to some unknown party. But because this isn’t Alias, it is not an exciting, dangerous discovery. It turns out that Grady cheated on Garner at a party and now has a young son with a scatter-brained woman named Maureen (a wildly miscast Juliette Lewis). Basically, Catch and Release is a movie about how Jennifer Garner’s dead fiance was actually kind of a sucky person and his best friend half-heartedly covers up for him for a while. As you might expect, Garner and Olyphant manage to fall in love and then have some difficulties and then fall in love again. At the end of the movie, there are some complications involving Grady’s inheritance and a DNA test, and ultimately everyone moves into Jennifer Garner’s house together as one big found-family. In theory, this is a good lesson.
Catch and Release was the directorial debut (and to date, only directed film) by screenwriter and producer Susannah Grant. Grant has an excellent track record, including an Academy Award nomination for writing Erin Brockovich, and recently co-created the acclaimed Netflix series Unbelievable with Ayelet Waldman and Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon. Considering that Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, and Susannah Grant have all produced excellent work in the years since Catch and Release, it must just be taken as a kind of weird anti-miracle that dragged everyone down with it. No specific one part of the film is incredibly terrible, but all the combinations come together in a lackluster mixture of contrivances and stock characters. But despite that, people are loving it on Netflix. Go figure.