Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Written by Jay & Mark Duplass
A good comedy can be refreshing. So often for me, a self-proclaimed movie buff, I find myself buried under a heap of “important”, dramatic, impactful films from the beginning of the year to the end. Even some of the blockbusters which provide a bit of fun to the movie watching experience are overly serious of late and lack a true laugh. Straight forward comedies seem to be even rarer these days, films whose direct intention is to make you laugh, to bring everyday truths to the forefront and make light of them. I don’t think there are any less good comedies than there have been before, I just think that my movie watching experience constitutes a smaller percentage of good comedies. So when one like Table 19 comes along with so many amazing names attached to the project, I get excited for a good comedy. Unfortunately, Table 19 only partially delivers.
Eloise (Anna Kendrick) has just recently been dumped by her boyfriend Teddy (Wyatt Russell), but that throws a wrench in the wedding plans for Teddy’s sister, who had Eloise pegged as her Maid of Honor. Now rejected, Eloise is relegated to Table 19, the table of random, obligatory wedding guests which includes Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Lisa Kudrow), diner owners whose marriage is on the rocks, Jo (June Squibb), the childhood nanny of the bride, Walter (Stephen Merchant), the ex-con uncle who just got out of prison, and Renzo (Tony Revolori), an awkward young man looking to make his eligibility known to the single ladies at the wedding. Eloise and her grab bag of tablemates grapple with their table placement while she attempts to reconcile with Teddy, who’s now schmoozing with the new Maid of Honor.
Indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, the screenwriting brothers behind the script for Table 19, bring a certain level of dramatic competency to a film otherwise being branded as a comedy. The film, which is loaded with jokes, many of which land at least partially if not completely, feels more like a drama first and a comedy second, which is neither here nor there in terms of its ability to communicate its message. Where Table 19 goes off track is by staying so much on track. It doesn’t take very many risks and is very predictable, from start to finish. Instead of crafting interesting, unique characters for the audience to care about, the brothers Duplass give us cardboard cutouts. What the film does have going for it? The cardboard cutouts are very funny, especially together.
The ensemble is full of funny people, and while the collection may seem random, it fits perfectly with the randomness of table 19. Stephen Merchant in particular made me laugh any time his likable convict Walter had something to do. Merchant imbues Walter with a pleasant attitude, one in which he longs so desperately to just fit in. Craig Robinson brings his usual amount of comedy, and is paired surprisingly well with Lisa Kudrow. The two have the perfect amount of negative chemistry to convince me that they hate each other all the while also still being in love with each other. These casting choices are extremely strong, but Wyatt Russell as Teddy just didn’t feel right. Perhaps the only casting misstep.
Table 19 will make you laugh, it is funny afterall. Table 19 will make you feel, it does have a dramatic heft built into its ensemble of characters. However, its staid machinations make for an otherwise uninteresting watch. It is the type of movie, the type of comedy which is nearly instantly forgettable after exiting the theater, and yet when you look back you realize you perhaps enjoyed it, or at least gained some laughs from the 90 minutes, but you also can’t quite pinpoint why that may be. I would fall short of calling Table 19 a good comedy, but there will certainly be worse. It won’t be the worst film you see all year, but it may be the most stale and by the end of the year you may have completely deleted it from your memory.