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Film Review: Table 19

on March 02, 2017, 12:00pm
D+
Director
Jeffrey Blitz
Cast
Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson
Release Year
2017
Rating
PG-13

Table 19 starts with a clever enough premise for the largely tired subgenre of the wedding comedy. There’s never a ceremony in the film; the opening titles breeze through those concerns, and jump straight ahead to the reception, where the tables are laid out strategically. Here’s where the eligible singles sit, and the ineligible singles, and the kids, and the cousins, and the sexually promiscuous relatives, and so on. And at the end of the list, at the titular 19th and final table, go the chaff. The friends of friends who weren’t expected to RSVP. What, the film ponders, do they do with their time?

In reality, they probably just get as drunk as they can and try not to socialize with the rest of the awkward table. But in Table 19, Jeffrey Blitz’s haphazard dramedy, the six strangers attempt to bond and find meaning in each other, in ways both silted and slapstick. The introductions come quickly: Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the former maid-of-honor, dumped via text message by the bride’s seemingly caddish brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Renzo (Tony Revolori) is a junior in high school, who for some reason is at the wedding by himself, and also hoping to get laid. Jo (June Squibb) is the bride’s former nanny, who worries she’s little more than an afterthought. Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry (Craig Robinson) are a long-suffering married couple whose contentious relationship can’t even contain itself for the length of a reception. And then there’s Walter (Stephen Merchant), who’s on weekend leave from a prison stint to attend the wedding.

Table 19 piles on the aggressive quirks from early on, and ends up leaving its formidable cast of comic actors with the unenviable task of trying to wring laughs from a premise that alternates played-out observational comedy (the mother of the bride feels old! the wedding band only plays corny ‘80s standards!) with strangely tone-deaf bursts of melancholic drama that undercut the light tone the film otherwise strains to establish. It’s a genuine drag to watch talented actors struggle through tepid material, and Table 19 offers this more readily than it does its laughs or its pathos. (Its best joke, a fanged rundown from Kendrick of who each table is and why they were placed there, is liberally cribbed from Mean Girls‘ famed lunchroom sequence.) Despite bottling its events to the few short hours of a wedding reception, Table 19 moves along at a near-glacial pace, fluctuating wildly between unearned revelations and go-nowhere subplots. And at the center of this is a talented cast trying to do the best it can with very little.

The moments that work best feel almost incidental to the film, as most of them center around the various actors bouncing off one another in conversation. There’s a sweetness to Revolori’s one-note horndog that emerges when he’s not forced to flop-sweat through attempted hookups that would feel inauthentic in a teen comedy, and Squibb does typically charming work as a woman who knows that she’s just along for the ride and intends to enjoy it while she can. And Kendrick, who can stage an onscreen meltdown about as well as any actor working today, gets several opportunities to demonstrate her vulnerable, seemingly effortless range throughout the movie; most effective is a late conversation between her and Squibb about the future, which catches both characters at a moment of humanity and feels so honest that it doesn’t fit most of the movie around it. To paraphrase Gene Siskel’s famed axiom, Table 19 isn’t nearly as interesting as a documentary about these actors eating lunch together would probably be.

Too often, Table 19 eschews honesty in favor of tedious gags and setpieces, or has it manifest at moments that don’t seem to call for it at all. (There’s one match where a poignant conversation about mortality is directly followed by sitcom-esque reception hijinks, and that’s the film’s tonal approach in a nutshell.) It’s most egregious in the scenes between Bina and Jerry, who Kudrow and Robinson attempt to pitch as bitter rivals even as the film mistakes them for a hilariously bickering couple early and often. There’s little emotional payoff to their struggles, despite the actors’ best efforts, and the eventual resolution feels as hollow as most of the other characters’ endings. And Merchant, who’s a talented comic performer in his own right, feels like a cartoon plucked from another movie here, broadly mugging his way through a single gag about being an unassuming convict as the movie seeks a purpose for it. That’s a good microcosm of Table 19 as a whole: it’s never clear what the film is going for from scene to scene, but it assuredly misses the mark.

The closest thing that the film finds to a central hook lies in Eloise’s complicated estrangement from Teddy, one which everyone at the table instantly seems to invest in, and it’s not nearly enough to keep Table 19 from dragging even at less than 90 minutes. (The resolution to that story also feels at odds with the film’s larger tone, but by then it’s scarcely worth being riled about.) It’s odd that the film’s comic and dramatic beats have so little cohesion, given that the Duplass brothers (who share credit on the screenplay) have long mastered the marriage of wistful emotion and sharp humor. Neither are to be found through the majority of Table 19, a movie that’s at once too broad and too grating to land with most audiences. It’s a movie made to earn polite chuckles at best, and doesn’t even manage to end with the shot that’s perfectly set up to end the movie. Like the film that precedes it, it insists on rambling on a little while longer, when it’s not even necessary.

Trailer:

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