With films like “In Her Shoes” and “Erin Brockovich” to her credit, screenwriter Susannah Grant has been leaving a quiet imprint of outspoken, independent-minded female characters on Hollywood. Her directorial debut, “Catch and Release,” out Friday, proves no exception. But Grant begs to differ at any suggestion she has a penchant for strong protagonists of the gentler sex.
“I just like to think of them as real,” says the Oscar-nominated writer. “What I liked about Erin Brockovich was that, for the first time in her life, she found herself in a situation where all the parts of her character that had been hindrances before — her stubbornness, her inflexibility — suddenly, they were exactly what was called for….She found her way to the situation in which all of her weaknesses were suddenly strengths. That dichotomy is interesting to me.”
Grant explores similar thematic terrain in “Catch and Release.” Jennifer Garner stars as Gray, who finds her seemingly picturesque life turned sour when her wedding day becomes the funeral for her “perfect” fiancé. Gray moves in with his closest guy friends — a cast that includes Kevin Smith and Timothy Olyphant — and finds herself uncovering troubling secrets about her late lover’s past.
“The character of Gray is someone who goes in at the beginning, has a very clear idea of how she thinks life should be led. The idea is that she doesn’t really come to love the guy she lost until she comes to love all of him, including his pretty large failings,” explains Grant. “One thing I really wanted to play with was the idea of a strict sense of good or bad, or black or white, or right and wrong. And there was a quote from Nietzsche that I had run into: The essence of it is that the greatest moments in your life are when you learn to baptize the badness in you as the best part of yourself.”
Her choice to direct was inspired by a combination of circumstances (she has two young children to whom she declared, “Guess what? We’re going to Canada!”) and a desire to leave much of the film’s essential core unsaid, a wish she felt might be lost if the movie was made by another director.
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Indeed, while Gray suffers a personal loss of enormous scope, the ebb and flow of her emotional journey is delivered through nuance, rather than rising crescendos.
Grant’s own professional trajectory has been similarly nonlinear. She grew up in Englewood, N.J., a “massive movie junkie,” and studied English at Amherst before moving to New York with acting and magazine writing in mind. But after a few years, “I looked around at the journalism world and looked around at the acting world and didn’t see in either of them a life I wanted,” she says. “So I split, went aimlessly to San Francisco, got a tattoo and wrote a screenplay.”
Though she claims to write every story as though she would be directing it, with “Catch and Release,” Grant certainly found some challenges — albeit humorous ones — that such imagining couldn’t conjure up. The film’s title refers to the fly-fishing hobby that its male characters practice. But not all her actors were down with her prep.
“They were all supposed to be good fly fishermen, but Kevin Smith was too lazy to go to classes. I kept calling him and saying, ‘Dude, you missed your fly-fishing class!'” laughs Grant. “And finally, as just a total bulls–t excuse for missing it, he said, ‘Suse, I don’t think this guy, this character, would fly-fish. I think he’d be bad at it.’ Which was just a way for him to be able to stay in his bed longer in the morning.”