Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) put in a lot of time and effort planning the wedding of her oldest friend. But after the bride’s brother/Eloise’s boyfriend, Teddy (Wyatt Russell, inheritor of none of Papa Kurt's charisma), dumped Eloise callously via text a few months back, Eloise was stripped of her maid-of-honor duties. As if that wasn’t enough of an indignity, she has also been relegated to the “loser table” at the wedding, Table 19. This is where guests who were courtesy-invited and didn’t have the good sense to RSVP in the negative go to die. Eloise finds herself seated alongside wizened ex-nanny Jo (June Squibb), eternally squabbling married couple Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), haplessly horny teen Renzo (Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel) and social misfit Walter (Stephen Merchant). Together, the group forms an uneasy alliance, emerging as an unlikely support group both for getting through this wedding as well as for fixing each other’s broken lives.
This is the premise of Table 19, which comes from producer Shawn Levy, purveyor of many a mainstream atrocity, and from writers Mark and Jay Duplass, titans of dippy indie cinema, and it feels like a perfect cross-pollination of each party’s worst impulses. Table 19 wants to be both a broad comedy and low-key character study, but those two elements don’t mix well together. They could, if either component were up to snuff. Yet Table 19 is neither funny nor insightful. Its only true talent is leaving a lot of great talent hanging out to dry.
Even the setup is flawed. It makes sense that Eloise would feel awkward being around Teddy at the wedding, especially with a new squeeze (Amanda Crew) on his arm. Yet it never makes sense why she’s been downgraded so dramatically in guest status. She was the one on the business end of the breakup, not the instigator. After all her hard work, would she really get so thoroughly shafted as this? And if she has, why still go? It doesn’t help that the bride (Maria Thayer) is, inexplicably, barely even a character in the film. It might have shed a bit of light to have her weigh in.
Table 19 feels like the pilot episode of a bad single-camera network sitcom about a bunch of misfits finding each other, and it’s one I would never want to watch the second episode of. Its characters all play like sitcom archetypes. You’ve got the horny nerd, the inept weirdo, the Bickersons, the sassy old lady who likes to smoke pot; it’s the whole hacky, prime-time package. The cast is impeccable, yet only Merchant gets any honest laughs, so committed is he to his character’s goony awkwardness. The film’s humor also leans very heavily on pratfalls (that Renzo sure does fall down a lot). The film has a full roster of comedic heavy hitters and it asks them to play T-ball in a mud puddle.
And for as much as Table 19 flounders as a raucous comedy, never beginning to generate the momentum necessary to power the farce inherent to its single-location setting, it really bites it as a drama. Like many Duplass joints, the characters eventually retreat outside to the woods to talk about life and such, yet the characters are so shallow and their problems so uninteresting that it all fizzles. And when the film does try to dig deeper with Eloise’s character, establishing the circumstances behind her breakup with Teddy, it attempts to rewrite Teddy as a valid, genuine romantic lead after already having wholly cemented him as a loathsome lout. Table 19’s characters are so lacking in nuance that when it attempts to graft another side onto them, it comes off not as shading but as wild inconsistency.
Table 19 isn’t offensively bad, no more than any of the groan generator TV shows your parents love. But at even its meager 87-minute running time, it feels like a fat lot of nothing. RSVP no and don’t send a gift.
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