Synopsis – Eloise, having been relieved of maid of honor duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to attend the wedding anyway, only to find herself seated with five fellow unwanted guests at the dreaded Table 19.
My Take – If you genuinely believe that we as an audience really don’t need any more rom/coms based around a wedding, its better you skip this Jeffrey Blitz directed film. Originally scheduled to be directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, who co-wrote the script (with Blitz), & ended up being directed by Jeffrey Blitz (The Office), this comedy film about a group of wedding attendees that all bond with each other, after being seated together at a table for undesirables sounds like an impressive idea on paper, but unfortunately, at no point did I felt emotionally connected or invested in these characters, worse yet, the film is simply not funny. I didn’t laugh a single time the entire movie, so for a film that is billed as a comedy and that is a problem. Even though I do not think the film is as terrible as some critics have pointed it out to be, it’s just simply short of being really good. I guess the producers felt that too, as the film had a limited theatrical release in the beginning of the year, a time when producers dumb their mediocre films in order to vanquish them from audiences’ memories by the end of the year. It’s sad, considering the cast of the film consisting of Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori and Wyatt Russell, who despite being victims of banal writing play their parts well, and make sure the film is watchable to a certain extent. The story follows Eloise (Anna Kendrick), a former maid-of-honor, dumped via text message by the bride’s seemingly caddish brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who against her better judgement, accepts her friend’s wedding invitation knowing she is persona non-grata with the bridal party as Teddy happens to be the bride’s brother and the best man, and has already replaced her with his new girlfriend Nikki (Amanda Crew). She was also the chief helper with during the wedding planning and knows who is at every table and why they are here. Also, due to the change in status quo, Eloise finds herself stuck at Table 19, the one farthest away from the married couple, filled with just misfits.
There’s the Kepps, Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry (Craig Robinson) are a long-suffering married couple, who run a diner and don’t really know why they were invited, also, there’s Renzo (Tony Revolori) who, as an almost-an-adult teen has hormones raging and aspires to meet a girl with the same, Walter (Stephen Merchant), a tall cousin, who’s on weekend leave from his prison stint to attend the wedding, and Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s former nanny, who worries she’s little more than an afterthought. Yet despite some uncomfortable moments early, each of them plays a part in helping Eloise work through her overwhelming emotions when it becomes painfully obvious that she’s not over Teddy. They were all expected to decline their invitation but still send a gift, and that alone is a recipe for humor and satire. Their distance from the bridal table and proximity to the toilets quickly establishes their lowly social status and the comic sketches play on social awkwardness. The thread of continuity is through Eloise and her manhunts. The standard sit-com one-liners and the obligatory near-catastrophe with a wedding cake are neither original nor particularly funny, but the situation develops a warm emotional undercurrent that is at times touching. To say the film is ridiculous and a mess, is a bit of an understatement. As critics rightly point out, the pacing is stop and go, the editing is slapdash and the high-concept simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to make it through a feature-length movie. Once the initial awkward niceties are flushed under the force of the first big narrative reveal, the film descends into a checklist of soapy plot-points and lazy character short hands. The film klutzily mixes its farcical elements with broad, sweeping story setups and has them slosh about until the runtime wears out. On top of it all, the tone shifts wildly depending on who you’re following at the time. Plus, the film tries too hard to be eccentric, for example, Walter and Renzo specifically feel added on for no reason other than to be quirky. And the message about love and marriage feels vague at best. What is it trying to say? That love is messy? We already knew that. That couples sometimes don’t seem like they fit? Again, not all that surprising. That weddings collect the most random list of guests? It also doesn’t help that the jokes keep thudding into land. Many of the punchlines are scatological, although director Blitz lacks the nerve to gross us out directly – so it’s a matter of how amused you are at hearing about how someone took a dump on a table or used the wrong washcloth to wipe his balls. Jeffrey Blitz, who wrote and directed the film, also made the documentary Spellbound and has more recently come to be known as the director on Comedy Central & The Office, while also giving Kendrick her first leading film role with his last theatrical release, Rocket Science. Perhaps he has had his fill of handheld camerawork, as he avoids it almost completely here (the pot-smoking scene is the exception), which makes the film look more professional and put-together than most modern comedies. One might even say that it knows the rudiments of framing—say, in the way the Kepps are introduced sitting in adjacent booths in their family-owned diner or how a climactic scene is punctuated with a shot of a boat disappearing from view. In fact, about half-way through the movie, when the action finally steers away from the wedding dinner/reception, we get to understand some of the background of the ensemble cast, and the film takes a turn toward sadness. Check out the bickering wedded couple, played by Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson: you just feel sorry for them. Anna Kendrick, who plays Eloise, can do no wrong in my book, but even she cannot save the movie, who after yet another mishap, she retreats to the bathroom to freshen up, and as she looks at herself in the mirror, she tries to pep herself up and says, “this day will not suck!”, but you know that it will!
Same thing at that point as far as the film goes, as you want to yell at the screen “this film will not suck!”, but by then you deep down already know this is a lost cause. Thankfully the film clears away some of the sad undercurrents, so that in the end we end up with something that is bittersweet, but I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s more bitter or more sweet. Narrative arcs in the Duplass brothers’ script are acrimoniously divorced from plausibility, dipping into the soap opera grab bag of convenient plot devices – jealousy, infidelity, illness – to provide each guest with an obstacle to overcome with a little help from their dysfunctional friends, these are modest qualities, though sadly uncommon for a film that’s trying to be funny—which the film is only rarely, and then largely thanks to old hands like Merchant and Robinson, who could do their respective characters in their sleep. (Revolori—who spends most of the film answering calls from his mother, voiced by an unseen Margo Martindale—deserves better roles.) It’s tough to believe that Blitz, who has directed some of the darkest comedy on American TV, could be responsible for such a corny movie, with little to offer aside from mildly amusing or diverting incidents: a running gag about a character accidentally showing up dressed like a member of the catering staff that’s been done a million times before; Eloise’s interactions with a handsome wedding crasher (Thomas Cocquerel) and her ex; Walter’s alien-like attempts at blending in with the other guests. This comedy is gifted with an interesting (and in a few cases, brilliant) cast, but it’s a disappointment — the players are in dire need of a better script. Though there are flashes of ingenuity in the film, the very idea of making a film about people placed at the least desirable table at a wedding is one of them, as is a red-herring plot point about a new love that ends up resolving differently, it doesn’t deliver on its promise. 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 the film 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 the film, that’s at once too broad and too grating to land with most audiences. It’s a film 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. Like I said I before, the cast play their parts well. Anna Kendrick acts her wedding garter off, delivering a more textured and emotionally affecting performance than Blitz’s film deserves. Stephen Merchant is properly funny as a man failing miserably to disguise his unhappy past. Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow are excellent as always. June Squibb and Tony Revolori are adorable. Wyatt Russell, Thomas Cocquerel and Amanda Crew are alright. On the whole, ‘Table 19’ squanders a cast of brilliant comic actors, for a disappointing film that is definitely far from hilarious.
Directed – Jeffrey Blitz
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 87 minutes