The trouble with most romantic comedies is that they're anchored to some sort of cutesy high-concept; love on its own apparently isn't enough, not when you can have, say, the world's luckiest and unluckiest people, or an average Joe and a superhero, just to name two examples from the past year. So it's a promising sign when Catch And Release opens with a death—and not just any old death, but one that happens so close to the deceased's wedding day that the wedding hall is retooled for an impromptu wake and the would-be bride has to turn away the florist. What follows doesn't exactly qualify as "dark"—one of the groomsmen has a bathroom tryst with a server during the event—but that patina of grief makes the film a bit realer than its rom-com contemporaries. Scrape away the unfortunate sitcom characterization, and it's even possible to imagine these people existing in the real world.
Jennifer Garner leads an enormously appealing cast as the bride who wore black, forced to regroup after the sudden tragedy leaves her with a broken heart and a whopping secret from her fiancé's past. Meanwhile, she lives in a rented house among his three closest friends: unrepentant ladies' man Timothy Olyphant, resident slob Kevin Smith, and the shy Sam Jaeger, who obviously harbors some feelings for her. While picking through her fiancé's financial papers, Garner discovers a series of $3,000 monthly payments he made to an unknown party. After she stops payment, that unknown party shows up in the loopy form of Juliette Lewis, a massage therapist who has more devastating news for Garner. In the meantime, Garner starts falling for Olyphant against her better judgment.
Take away the death and revelations that follow, and Catch And Release has the makings of a weekly half-hour network comedy—call it Four's Company. Playing basically a PG-13-rated version of himself, Smith gets most of the laughs with his relaxed, slouchy charisma, while Olyphant's trademark volatility makes him a livelier romantic lead than the usual stuffed shirt. Still, writer-director Susannah Grant doesn't care to delve too deeply into the stickier issues of Garner's new love, who after all was her late fiancé's closest friend and confidante. But at least Grant attempts to write about real people and situations. For the average rom-com, that's a step in the right direction.