‘Table 19’ sets as a predictable, likeable event
Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Written by: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring: Anna Kendrick, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Chris Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, and Wyatt Russell
“Table 19” – Weddings receptions are fun! During a well-planned afternoon or evening, a great wedding reception can shower its guests with tasty food, adult beverages, music, dancing, laughter, and love. Who wouldn’t love this celebration of love?
Well, those sitting at Table 19, who are placed in the furthest back corner of the ballroom. Table 19 is reserved for a collection of misfits with little or distant connections to the bride and groom. While almost everyone else – from Tables 1 through 18 - seems to be enjoying themselves, Eloise (Anna Kendrick), Walter (Stephen Merchant), Jerry (Chris Robinson), Bina (Lisa Kudrow), Renzo (Tony Revolori), and Jo (June Squibb) mope at this infamous table, soaked with the realization that they are not necessarily welcomed on this day of merriment.
After a short while, they communally feel that some imaginary team captains deliberately picked them last for a dodgeball game but also banished them to the sidelines, even before one red ball is thrown.
Director Jeffrey Blitz and writers Jay and Mark Duplass do not include any actual dodgeballs in the story, but this cluster of strangers feels emotionally slugged. Additionally, each character lugs their own personal baggage to the table (pardon the pun), needing to overcome their own melancholy and individual challenges. Admittedly, we have witnessed similar personal journeys countless times in movies - and your average sitcoms – for decades.
To be blunt, there are very few surprises here, but the very talented cast offers their comedic skills to generate rooting interests for (most of) these likeable underdogs, and they know how to make us smile. Blitz hands Merchant, Revolori and Squibb the best material, and they roll with several funny moments, regarding prison time, sexual frustration and growing older, respectively. Merchant is especially hilarious with Walter’s missteps in trying to mask his questionable past.
Many, many wedding films of the past predictably make big deals around best man speeches, cake cutting and first dances. Although these wedding reception milestones do occur in “Table 19”, they refreshingly transpire in passing, without trumped-up fanfare. Instead, the film focuses on the characters’ light moments and personal dramedies. The narratives work, with the exception of Jerry (Robinson) and Bina’s (Kudrow) marital problems. They trudge through typical arguments, and the actors’ comedic and romantic chemistry just feels off, despite their best efforts. Since one “knows” how their story will end, the continued hope is that Blitz limits this troubled couple to less than their allotted slice of the 87-minute runtime. Since we have five Table 19 stories, that officially calculates to 17.4 minutes of Jerry and Bina bickering. Unfortunately, it seemed like more.
Thankfully, Kendrick carries her solid mix of charm, cuteness and nerve, as Eloise copes with a recent breakup, while wandering in the netherworld of singledom on the day of her best friend’s wedding. Naturally, this makes her decision to either accept Francie’s (Rya Meyers) wedding invitation “with pleasure” or “decline with regret” a complete dilemma.
You might be happy that you checked “accept with pleasure” on a figurative invitation to a weekend matinee. While “Table 19” will not inspire spontaneous proposals or cause standing ovations, it is a pleasant and likeable event.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.