Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
TABLE 19 | 87 min | PG-13
Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Wyatt Russell, Margo Martindale, Tony Revolori, June Squibb, Maria Thayer, Thomas Cocquerel, Megan Lawless
Weddings, and the events leading up to them, are the bedrock of many good romcoms. It’s the perfect storm for hijinks and hilarity. From THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, to FATHER OF THE BRIDE (both versions), to FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, to THE WEDDING PLANNER, zany things go down at one of the most important and stress-filled occasions. However, a wedding is just the backdrop for the humor, heart and healing encountered by a group of relative strangers at one calamitous wedding in director Jeffrey Blitz’ TABLE 19. Though it’s a touch problematic, overall, it’s cute and yields some genuine laughs and poignancy.
Welcome to the Millner/ Grotzky wedding – where the champagne flows freely, but the quirks flow faster. Like any wedding reception worth its salt, this one is stacked with tropey types: the hard-partying best man (Andy Blitz), the nympho wedding guest (Maria Thayer), the trophy wife (Lucy Huynh), and the blotto drunk member of the wedding party (Becky Ann Baker). But this story isn’t about them. It’s about the misfits seated at Table 19, a.k.a. “the table that should have known to just send regrets (but not before sending something nice off the registry).” They include bickering married couple Bina and Jerry (played by Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), socially awkward teen Renzo (Tony Revolori), lonely Nanny Jo (June Squibb), naive nephew of the father-of-the-bride Walter (Stephen Merchant), and conflicted ex-maid-of-honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick). After pleasantries are awkwardly exchanged, the group finds out the reasoning behind their grouping, and sets out to prove those who did the table assignments wrong… or, as the case may be, right.
Like any good party, atmosphere and music are important – and Blitz (ROCKET SCIENCE, SPELLBOUND) and his crew bring it. The pop-song driven soundtrack, chock full of great 80’s songs, is a warm, comforting, nostalgic blanket for our ears. Oberhofer does a tremendous job updating the classics. Thompson Twins (“Hold Me Now”), Cyndi Lauper (“All Through the Night”), Wang Chung (“Dance Hall Days”), and A Flock of Seagulls (“Space Age Love Song”) provide the needle drops that complement the action without being too terribly on the nose. Ben Richardson’s sparkling cinematography also augments joyous, celebratory feelings. It radiates even when things aren’t burning so bright for the characters. Timothy David O’Brien’s production design feels warm and welcoming.
Blitz, along with Jay and Mark Duplass (TOGETHERNESS, THE DO DECA PENTATHALON), who earn story by credit, know how to bring out organic, soft arcs in the characters. Eloise’s constant state of tumultuous emotional flux is evidenced within seconds as she wrestles with the decision of whether or not to attend her ex-bestie’s (Rya Meyers) wedding, furiously marking up the RSVP card before setting it on fire. She unpacks her wishy-washy waffling ways at the reception through unspoken cues – a blessing given that most filmmakers do over-verbose dialogue drops instead. Nanny Jo doesn’t experience much of a transformation; however, she solves her own conundrum in the subtlest of manners. She’s mainly there to service other characters’ arcs. It’s also worth noting that Teddy (Wyatt Russell), Eloise’s ex-boyfriend/ brother of the bride, is never truly villainized. Courtesy of Russell’s emotive performance, Teddy’s pain feels palpable, infused with an inherently understated likability.
While each guest has their reasons for being there, a few of them lack individually satisfying resolutions. That said, I’ll give it to the filmmakers for not taking us through expected places plot-wise – especially when it comes to manic pixie dreamboy Huck (Thomas Cocquerel). However, more definitive conclusions are important. Walter begins and ends without much character growth. Though Walter’s sticky finger skills are utilized (and Eloise gets the credit for it later), Merchant’s skills as a dynamic character actor are astoundingly underutilized. Bina and Jerry’s marital problems are sped through in the third act. When the film ended, I was still concerned their problems weren’t solved. But, you know, kudos to Blitz and the Duplass Brothers for getting me to care about these fictional characters. Renzo’s fumbling “hello ladies” shtick barely pays off, and nothing comes out of the side story with his overbearing mother (Margo Martindale, who’s curiously only heard and not seen). You’d expect he’d throw out his shrill ring-toned cell phone and learn to romance dream girl Meaghan (Megan Lawless) by film’s end – only that’s not what happens. Moreso, I kept questioning why a teen was invited to, or would even attend this wedding.
Despite almost achieving THE BREAKFAST CLUB levels of connection, we still do come to care about these outcasts in similar ways. They too share in a pot smoking sequence and dance together. Also, the running gag about Bina’s attire being too similar to the wait staff’s earns a few good chuckles.
Like a slice of wedding cake (the best part of any reception), TABLE 19 may not be the best treat ever, but it’s a sweet and satisfying crowd-pleaser.
TABLE 19 opens on March 3.