Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, June Squibb, Wyatt Russell, Thomas Cocquerel, Amanda Crew, Maria Thayer, Andrew Daly, Megan Lawless, Rya Meyers
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity)
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 3/3/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 3, 2017
A talented cast comes together for forced awkwardness of the social and comic varieties in Table 19. It's easy to understand why these actors would be drawn to the movie, since the premise sounds solid and minimalist—almost theatrical, really. It sounds, in other words, like the sort of movie that would give a group of actors plenty of chances to shine, both as individuals and as a collective.
The setup is this: At a wedding reception, there's a table of guests who are arranged together because none of them quite fits in with the folks at the other tables. Those other tables are reserved for the families of the bride and groom, close friends, family business associates, friends who are eligibly single and could hit things off, other single friends who aren't quite desperate yet but are getting there, and married friends who might want to commiserate about the stuff of married life.
Where, though, does the wedding planner put, say, the bride's first nanny, whom the family hasn't seen in a long time, or people who are in the same business as the groom's dad but don't quite socialize as much as his closer colleagues? Where do the weird cousin and an awkward teenager, whom somebody knows somehow, fit into this picture? What, for certain, is to be done with the former maid of honor, who was dumped by the best man a couple months ago?
Nobody really expected these people to show up to the wedding and the reception, but they responded that they'd be coming. They're placed at the table in the corner of the room—as far from the bathroom, as one of the tablemates puts it, as they are from knowing anyone in the wedding party.
It's a simple, completely relatable premise, and that's about the end of simplicity and relatability in director Jeffrey Blitz's screenplay. The movie feels desperate in its attempts at humor, and then it becomes desperate in trying to make these characters and their previously facetious problems into the stuff of actual drama. In between, there's not much of anything that actually happens. The characters don't evolve. They don't change in any way, except that their perception of another character shifts. That makes them feel better about everything, even if it has nothing to do with them. Hey, though, one character falls down a few times, and then a different one takes a tumble to the ground.
The former maid of honor is Eloise (Anna Kendrick), who goes to the festivities despite her doubts. Her ex, the best man, is Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who's already dating the new maid of honor (played by Amanda Crew). Eloise insists that she's over it, but a seemingly random guy named Huck (Thomas Cocquerel) points out that she has been staring at Teddy for an uncomfortably long period of time. She and the stranger end up dancing and flirting, but it's beside-the-point of anything relevant—except to add one more betrayal later.
The rest of the table is made up of diner owners/troubled married couple Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry (Craig Robinson), ex-nanny Jo (June Squibb), weird teenager Renzo (Tony Revolori), and even weirder cousin-of-the-bride Walter (Stephen Merchant). The last two are the comic relief, which is a bit of an odd thing to have in a comedy.
Renzo is desperate to get a girlfriend and socially awkward to tragic degree, we suppose the fact that he comes across as a bit creepy is supposed to be forgiven because he's a kid and also because he only has his mom looking out for him. Walter, at least, is supposed to give off an eerie vibe, and Merchant's wide-eyed portrayal—of a man who is as terrible in the art of deception (His tell is gulping an entire glass of champagne while trying to figure out what to say) as he is in the actual lies (He just repeats what others say, hoping nobody will notice)—is amusing, even without much with which to work.
Apart from Kendrick, the other actors, apparently aware that their characters are only here for the third-act attempts at pathos, seem to be sleepwalking through this. That's a shame, although it's more the fault of Blitz than the performers. The likes of Kudrow, Robinson, and Squibb shouldn't be wasted on broadly-drawn marital stagnation and a generically wise and kind woman who knows a lot because she has lived a lot.
There simply isn't much here, but even so, Blitz often stretches this material beyond its breaking point. Table 19 doesn't just waste its cast. The movie doesn't even trust them enough to make a setup this simple work on its own merits.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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