Table 19 ** / *****
Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz.
Written by: Jeffrey Blitz and Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass.
Starring: Anna Kendrick (Eloise McGarry), Lisa Kudrow (Bina Kepp), Craig Robinson (Jerry Kepp), Tony Revolori (Renzo Eckberg), Stephen Merchant (Walter Thimble), June Squibb (Jo Flanagan), Wyatt Russell (Teddy), Margo Martindale (Freda Eckberg), Rya Meyers (Francie Millner), Amanda Crew (Nikki), Thomas Cocquerel (Huck), Andry Daly (Luke Pfaffler).
It isn’t really fair to be disappointed by a movie because of its marketing, but that’s kind of how I felt after watching Table 19. True, movies always sell the movie they think audiences want to see, which isn’t always the movie they are trying to sell, and you should take all trailers with a grain of salt – but it was my impression that Table 19 was going to be a goofy comedy, about a group of misfits at a wedding where they were basically unwanted, but attended anyway. That is the basic premise of the movie, but the film takes it more seriously than I would have thought, and the result is a film that isn’t particularly funny, but doesn’t hit the insights it’s reaching for either. Instead, it’s just kind of a flat film, in which a game cast doesn’t really have much to do.
Anna Kendrick stars as Eloise, who was set to be the Maid of Honor at her best friend’s wedding – until, two months before the wedding, the bride’s brother, who is also the best man, dumps Eloise via text message. Feeling awkward, she drops out of the wedding, but decides to attend anyway – and ends up seated at Table 19 – at a wedding where they were only 19 tables. He table mates include a convicted felon, Walter (Stephen Merchant), a nearly forgotten former nanny, Jo (June Squibb), a squabbling couple Jerry and Bina (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), and a teenage outcast looking to get laid, Renzo (Tony Revolori). That’s a good cast – every one of those actors can be, and has been, very funny in the past, and likely will be in the future as well. The trailer makes the film look like a kind of comedy of errors, where they will all rally around Eloise, as she ensures that her former boyfriend (Wyatt Russell) gets his comeuppance when she lands the hot British guy, Huck (Thomas Cocquerel).
Yet, there is a twist fairly early in the proceedings where I realized, as an audience member, that the film wasn’t going in that direction. The film isn’t as interested in being funny as it is in concocting a rather labored version of The Breakfast Club for adults at a wedding – complete with a lot of soul searching, and heartfelt conversations. These are set alongside things that are more overtly jokey like the smashing of a wedding cake, or what Renzo tells the only other teenager at the wedding when he misinterprets Jerry’s advice to him. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except for the fact that the movie isn’t very insightful either. It tries very hard to be sure, and the actors give it their best, but it doesn’t work.
The film was directed by Jeffrey Blitz, who came over to features after his delightful documentary Spellbound, about the annual Scripts Spelling Bee (FYI – I haven’t missed an airing of the finals since that movie debuted in 2002). His first (and last) feature was the underrated, underseen Rocket Science (2007) – which was Kendrick’s first movie role. Since then, Blitz has worked in TV – on shows like The Office and the recent Trial & Error (you catch up with that one – it was a delight). Here though, he never quite finds the right tone, and his screenplay (from an idea by the Duplass brothers, who probably could have made this sucker work) is stuck between wanting to be a more mainstream comedy, and an indie study in awkwardness. And as a result, it doesn’t do either very well. With this much talented involved, it should be possible to make something this dull.