Back in Hollywood's heyday – the '30s and '40s – studios tailored some of their films to suit feminine sensibilities. These “women's pictures,” like Mildred Pierce , Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas , became their own genre with certain directors, like George Cukor, excelling at them. Often melodramas, the movies told their stories through the eyes of the lead female which was, and still is, relatively unusual.

Today, the state of the woman's pictures rests mostly on the flimsy shoulders of romantic comedies. I watch these movies because I like love stories in theory, but truthfully, if I can get through one without cringing too much, I count myself lucky.  

Catch & Release , starring Jennifer Garner, isn't traditional light-hearted fare, as it opens with the funeral of Garner's fiancee. The mood quickly – too quickly – lightens, however, with the addition of a motley crew including kooky Juliette Lewis, wacky Kevin Smith and cute-kid Joshua Friesen, all cookie cutter ordered from central casting.

That writer Susannah Grant would choose Catch & Release for her directing debut after writing the much better Erin Brockovich , Ever After and In Her Shoes , both puzzles and frustrates me. Grant clearly knows how to write and develop character, but both skills abandon her here, and instead the story, characters and dialogue feel wooden, uninspired and even embarrassing.

The Drew Barrymore–Hugh Grant pairing in Music and Lyrics manages even worse. The natural charm and chemistry that they volley back and forth on vapid entertainment shows like “Extra” and “Entertainment Tonight” is somehow completely flattened out.

The movie actually seems to dim the stars' lights and subdue their magnetism as if someone spackled their faces over with kabuki make-up. Grant looks uncomfortable and out of sorts, while Barrymore looks so desperate to please that you want to pat her on the head just to relieve some of her desperation. They both deserve better.

The premise, Barrymore as a substitute plant waterer who stumbles into Grant's life just as he struggles to write a song, plunges into cringe-mode as she miraculously strings together so-called inspiring lyrics. Of course, they make beautiful music together.

I think I could have stomached the plot if either of the leads had summoned a modicum of wit or even good humor. Like Susannah Grant, writer-director Marc Lawrence should know better having done the much more entertaining and energetic Two Weeks Notice and Miss Congeniality . The trick, like in ice skating, is to make it look easy, even if it isn't.

Catch & Release Grade: C

Music and Lyrics Extras: Additional scenes, gag reel, “making of” and music video.

Grade: D+

—Angela Matano

Catch & Release and Music and Lyrics are both currently available.