Trivial even by the usual mumblecore standards, Table 19 is the kind of film that one expects to find hitting the cinema in the post-Oscar, pre-anything decent netherlands known as late winter cinema. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound, Rocket Science) and co-written by the Duplass Brothers, Table 19 stars Anna Kendrick as Eloise, whose status as the Maid of Honor at her best friend's wedding is tossed aside when she breaks up with Teddy (Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!!), the best friend's brother.
Relegated to nothing more than a common guest now, Eloise's indecisiveness about attending leads one of several scenes in the film meant to be quietly funny yet worth not much more than a chuckle or two. When her somewhat surprising attendance leads to her equally somewhat voluntary sitting at Table 19, the dreaded last table where the misfits and similarly invited but unexpectedly attending guests are placed. She's joined by Jo (June Squibb), the overly friendly former nanny whose life's meaning seems to be found in her memories of having been this young woman's nanny, Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina Kepp (Lisa Kudrow), a not so happily married couple familiar with the bride and groom only through their father, the teenage Renzo (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel), whose virginal presence is more a favor to his mother, and Walter (Stephen Merchant), a distant cousin with a secret he's trying to keep secret.
To their credit, the Duplass Brothers do at least try to create a more substantial film than anyone who ventures into Table 19, and I expect that to not be very many folks, could possibly expect from a film where even the movie poster screams out bland mumblecore.
Director Jeffrey Blitz has always seemingly had a fondness for societal misfits, a fondness that seems to be a perfect fit for the Duplass gift for celebrating uniqueness and the trivialities of everyday life. After all, Blitz is the guy who gave us the award-winning documentary Spellbound about the National Spelling Bee AND he actually made us care about it.
Unfortunately, the same doesn't happen with Table 19.
While not necessarily an indicator of story direction, the opening scenes in Table 19 are still an indicator of what one can expect from the film. Table 19 never feels emotionally honest or authentic or particularly involving, the faux conflicts feeling faux and the comic set-ups feeling remarkably set up. The fact that Kendrick herself remains engaging is almost solely due to the fact that Kendrick is, in fact, a relentlessly likable actress who could play this character in her sleep yet infuses it with as much passion and humor as she can possibly muster. It saves her performance, but it sure doesn't save the film. The same is true for Kudrow and Robinson, who share a believable chemistry and both of whom seem to catch a vibe with the film that can't help but make you glad every time a scene centers around them.
To be fair to the Duplass Brothers, Table 19 is one of their older scripts and it feels like it's a script that should have been reworked a bit more before someone decided to dust it off and film it. It feels unfinished, like a gem of a Project Greenlight script that looks good on paper but no one ever actually shows up to see. The problem isn't just the script, but the inconsistent vibe that permeates every cell of the film yet never completely derails it. It's as if Blitz kept trying to figure out "Is this a drama?" or "Is this a comedy?" and never actually reached a decision. The final product has hints of both comedy and drama, yet they feel lifeless and not particularly convincing.
Table 19 picks up its pace in the final third of the film, though everything that manifests, from obligatory conflicts to smoking pot, feels like it's manufactured just for the sake of wrapping up the story instead of as a natural result from the story.
June Squibb is a fine actress, though she feels mighty out of place here. If you wondered whether or not The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori would find post-Wes Anderson life you'll likely still be wondering by the end of this film.
With a cloying original score and an odd sense of detachment that keeps one from ever investing in any of the characters, Table 19 enters a packed box-office weekend destined to be left in row 19 while the vastly superior Logan and the far more emotionally effective The Shack snag the moviegoers.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic