There’s a unique pain that comes from watching a movie filled top to bottom with actors who you love shuffling awkwardly through a screenplay completely unworthy of their efforts. ‘Table 19’ is a particularly rough example of the form.
Essentially, this is an unofficial remake of ‘The Breakfast Club’ centered on a collection of vaguely unwanted guests seated at the misfit table at a wedding, only with even more awkward leaps from comedy to melodrama and painfully unsubtle dialogue. However, each and every stock and clichéd role is filled with an actor who would be perfect in the part if the screenplay was remotely decent. Maybe they thought they’d have enough improv opportunities to overcome the screenplay, but that didn’t happen. Regardless, ‘Table 19′ is to be especially avoided by anyone who has a particular fondness for this overqualified collection of actors.
The almost unfairly talented and adorable Anna Kendrick stars as Eloise, a young woman invited to a wedding that she was supposed to serve as Maid of Honor in until her boyfriend (and the bride’s brother/Best Man, played by Wyatt Russell) dumped her. At first, she tries to burn the invite, then decides to show up anyway out of spite. She’s shoved onto a table that includes a married couple whose love faded into routine long ago (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), a former nanny turned pot-smokin’ granny (Oscar nominee June Squibb from ‘Nebraska’), a horndog nerdy teen virgin (Tony Revolori, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’), and a particularly uncomfortable Stephen Merchant fresh out of prison for white collar crime. The gang are all mismatched for maximum comedic potential and couldn’t be less suited to show up for the lavish affair. Cue all sorts of bickering and misunderstandings until they all gradually realize that they appreciate each other for their outcast nature. This is all played to the sweet sounds of ’80s ballads in bonding montages suited to shampoo commercials. Expect growth and comedic comeuppance to follow.
The story credit goes to Jay and Mark Duplass, who have made a career out of projects that walk a line between comedy and drama in a manner that resembles life. The brothers tend to take premises that feel like stock comedies from the 1980s and then deliver them in such a messy and tone-shifting manner that they barely resemble studio storytelling formulas. Perhaps some early script for ‘Table 19’ shared those qualities. However, whenever writer/director Jeffery Blitz (‘Rocket Science’, ‘Spellbound’) took over, that all went away. The movie still has some semblances of the Duplass brothers’ style, including setups to Hollywood conventions that deliberately take left turns. Sadly, just as many plots veer off into the most tedious possible resolutions. It makes for a painfully awkward viewing experience. In brief spurts, ‘Table 19′ confounds expectation and dares to be interesting. More often than not, it just goes for the most obvious joke or character arc, leading to a movie that won’t please viewers comforted by convention or anxious for something different.
The cast try their best to make it work and some fare better than others. Unfortunately, Kudrow, Robinson, Squibb and Revolori are saddled with roles far too stock for elevation. Kudrow and Robinson go through a weary routine of bickering endlessly, even though it’s clear they truly love each other. (Awww… blech.) Revolori is stuck with a series of embarrassing horny nerd clichés, such as asking his mother for sex advice or bragging to a stranger about his big penis in ways that are even more embarrassing for the actor than the character. Squibb alternates from a hip “rappin’ granny” type to a wise old soul in a way that gives her two tiresome clichés to limp through for the price of one.
On the plus side, Kendrick is well cast as a neurotic train wreck with a heart of gold, which she always does well. Meanwhile, Stephen Merchant seemingly can’t help but be hilarious. He delivers all of the movie’s biggest laughs despite having few character traits to play beyond being a general weirdo.
Ultimately, ‘Table 19’ would have been far better had it either embraced its mainstream comedy clichés or attempted to be something far weirder and more uncomfortable. By teetering awkwardly between both extremes, the movie will please neither audience and leave everyone unsatisfied. That’s a real shame. With a cast this good, the movie never should have been this mediocre. I’m sure that merely compiling a movie out of the conversations and jokes shared by the actors between takes would have been far more interesting. Hopefully, this team at least all had a good time making ‘Table 19’. If so, that would at least means that six people got something out of this misfire.