Cinema Signal:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie
(Avon Romance)
by Marianne Stillings
. "Catch and Release"

This romantic dramedy is full of the feminine sensibility and takes curious paths in its awkward attempts to pad out the romance on writer-director Susannah Grant's mind. The first part of the first act had me wondering if I was going to manage sitting through it all. By the end of the act, perhaps because the forbidden relationship was beginning to suggest itself, I got involved. But weariness with the quirky antics of clumsily drawn characters worked my interest down again by the last act. All I can say is that I hung in.

A pretty enough lady by the name of Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) is devastated by the sudden death of Grady Douglas, her fiance', a guy well liked and loved by his circle of screwball friends. Since she can't afford the house Grady was renting, she moves in with his grieving buddies, Jack Black-clone Sam (Kevin Smith), mordantly serious Dennis (Sam Jaeger) who holds a torch for her, and playboy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), dead hubby's best pal.

During the post funeral reception, able to take the questions and commiserations no longer, Gray retreats upstairs and hangs out, alone in her personal misery, in the bath tub. Far sighted (in terms of plot points), she fails to lock the door but draws the curtain closed as though not wanting to prevent the bathroom's use by others. Sure enough, as though bidden by her curious thoughtfulness, Fritz enters with a chick in heat, whereupon they have quick, noisy sex. Gray is trapped, having to listen to the inane groans and chatter. Her regard for Fritz is something south of respect.

But, Fritz knows some things about his old bud that even she doesn't, so when she discovers that her fiance' was sending regular checks for $3,000 to a lady out west, and when Maureen, that lady (Juliette Lewis), turns up looking for the dead man with a 4 year old boy in tow -- wondering why her checks have stopped -- only Fritz can confirm the validity of her claims.

In the quirkily misfiring style of the writing in which the attempt to be "different" and funny shows way too much, Maureen and little Mattie (Joshua Friesen) starts spending so much time with the Grady bunch, you'd think she's moved in. At the same time, Gray and Mrs. Douglas (Fiona Shaw), her almost-mother-in-law, fear that the boy would be the beneficiary of the dead man's considerable wealth and they demand a DNA test.

All the while, we know what writer Grant is getting at. Gray's dependence on Fritz to reveal what he knows about her fiance's secret riches and philandering brings them together enough to discover they are each not what the other thought and attraction slowly develops hot romantic traction. The two actors play it well, he with nicely laid back charm and good looks, she with sass and self-discovery, and produce enough emotional spark to almost justify the serious silliness in which it's mortared. But not enough to break out of it.

Grant, who wrote the screenplay for "Erin Brokovich," needs to develop her sense of comedic human behavior which, here, is strewn with so much inanity as to wreck the premise. The frat-house relationship between the two roommates is feeble even by sophomoric standards; and the Juliette Lewis trademark fruitcake quality is an uncomfortable stretch (though admiration for this actress' uniqueness remains unmarred). No subtle, underlying love story, however, is enough to counteract the defects of the surrounding elements, namely concept and execution.

No doubt, however, that there'll be enough of an audience for it. This film is for those who's receptivity to a bit of romance between attractive people is strong enough to prevail against vacuous literary flotsam.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Exactly what he said....and Timothy Olyphant should ease up on the Crest Whitening Strips.

                                                           ~~ Lisa G. 

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