5 out of 10
Anna Kendrick as Eloise McGarry
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Table 19 Review:
It’s easy to slough off modern middle class-set comedies and dramas as out of touch and unnecessary; the offspring of individuals comfortable enough to gather resources and make the sacrifices needed to break into filmmaking. As such, they’re primarily interested still in first-world problems, none of which are dramatic or interesting partly because they have been so well-covered over the past century plus.
None of that is actually true; people from all walks of life have their own experiences with real joy and real pain and no cause can invalidate the realism of those feelings, which means they should all be fertile soil for good storytelling. But dear good do films like Table 19 make it feel like those things are true. Like the worst of independent cinema, it has an inexhaustible patience for navel-gazing, mistaking self-absorption for universality, and wasting what positive elements it does have.
Table 19 has a talented cast and a nose for comedy but loses momentum after a decent start, leaving its audience — like many wedding goers — praying for it to finally end.
The idea of sitting with a bunch of random wedding party members at the reception is a good one. Getting to know them as they get to know each other and laughing at the quirks of their personalities and the way they deal with the inherent boredom of where they are, should be an easy layup [It is universally true that your wedding is nerve wracking for you and dull for everyone else].
Filling that roster with an assortment of skilled actors and comedians like June Squibb, Craig Robinson and Stephen Merchant should be the equivalent of the 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. With stairs in front of their hoop. The cast members themselves are certainly game and co-writer/director Jeffrey Blitz is a good set-up man, particularly with small out-of-nowhere asides and payoffs. And yet for some reason, he spends most of the film undermining its own concept and striking out on a new path altogether.
Though theoretically focused on the assortment of ‘randoms’ dropped into the wedding — the old Nanny, the business buddies, the son of an old family friend — Table 19 is really a holding pattern for Eloise (Kendrick). The former Maid of Honor, Eloise was recently dumped by the Best Man (Russell) and is barely keeping her sh*t together watching her best friend get married from a distance.
She is a ticking bomb waiting for a trigger, a trigger any of the well-meaning but hapless odd bods she’s been stuck with could easily provide. Or would if she were ever at the table; Blitz continually sends Eloise away from the table to stalk her former flame and flirt with a party crasher (Cocquerel) and hopes Kendrick’s natural charm is enough to carry the day.
Which it may well be, except that Blitz occasionally remembers the other people at the table and cuts back to them, spending just enough time with them for a punch line but not quite long enough for a good set up. It’s a random, haphazard and off-putting, keeping any dramatic or comedic steam from building up. The audience is transformed into the passenger of a driver learning manual transmission for the first time.
There’s an old saying that half of a director’s job is good casting, but Blitz seems to have done his best to undermine that thought. From small bits to large, his cast is first rate right down to Margo Martindale, who only ever gets heard over a phone. Everyone is game and puts their all into what they’re given, but what they’re given isn’t much and quickly becomes repetitive. Robinson is bored and lonely, Revolori is oversexed, Merchant grins like an idiot, and on and on. Only Squibb manages to rise above the material and make the pathos she is supposed to have work. Blitz seems to realize this as she gradually overpowers every scene she is in, becoming the opposing pole of the film to Eloise and marginalizing the rest of the cast even more.
There’s a lot of wasted potential in Table 19, but worse there is just a lot of wasted time. Unable to decide what it wants to do or where it wants to go with its assortment of random people, Table 19 just ends up feeling… random.