Early in Table 19, a comedy of embarrassment that is just cringe-worthy, Eloise (Anna Kendrick) takes a lighter to a wedding invitation. I don’t think she went far enough: she should have set the whole script on fire. Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, responsible for the documentaries Spellbound (2002) and Lucky (2010) Table 19 makes you renew your vows never to watch another alleged ‘wedding comedy’, especially one that focuses on unwanted guests, the people you think you ought to invite to placate someone else but who you really want to forget are there.
Headed by Eloise, the bride’s oldest friend who was dumped by text message by the bride’s brother (Wyatt Russell, a spit for his pa, Kurt Russell), the ‘forgettables’ consist of an unhappily married couple, Jerry and Bina (Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow) who run a diner in Ohio, Jo (June Squibb) a hash-smoking nanny who is disappointed by the children she raised, cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant) who lives in a halfway house and is determined not to reveal anything about himself and Rezno (Tony Revolori, from The Grand Budapest Hotel), a teenage boy with a furry bow tie whose mother engineers his social life and comes across like a sex pest.
I have no doubt that Mark and Jay Duplass, who are credited with Blitz for the film’s story, had the kernel of a good idea, to focus on a group of characters whose own ‘happy ever after’ is far from guaranteed. The genre itself is distinguished by PJ Hogan’s 1994 Muriel’s Wedding, featuring Toni Collette as an ‘ugly duckling’ (read: socially awkward) woman destined not to be a bride but unexpectedly gets her chance in an emotional roller-coaster ride. There are only so many films that we can watch in which the protagonists discover that happiness is achieved through being oneself rather than aspiring to be a poster-girl bride.
In Table 19, we see the bride and groom sing badly, whilst their extended family looks smug or drunk. Eloise’s ambivalent feelings towards her ex propel the story along to such obvious set pieces as the wedding cake being decimated (but no one notices) and Eloise flirting with an Australian (Thomas Cocquerel) who watches her watching the ex.
Rezno is particularly odd. He’s like an unaccompanied minor being taught to swim by being chucked without water wings into the deep end. You feel that his mother (Margo Martindale, voice only) should be arrested for bad parenting. He doesn’t need to go to a wedding, rather get a summer job. In another movie, he would be the kid who grows up to be a writer who learns to understand grown-ups by avoiding children his age.
When we discover the secrets held by Eloise, cousin Walter and the rest, pathos is pumped up to the max. The inspirational music (by John Swihart) curdles the less than profound life lessons that are dispensed and laughter disappears entirely.
One scene typifies the film’s awkwardness when Bina relates how she found ‘topless Helen Mirren’ in Jerry’s search history. Rezno then shows the group a picture of the actress that he discovered doing the same search, in when Dame Helen is wearing a swimsuit. But this isn’t to prove that Jerry is lurid, rather the filmmakers are sparing us a photograph of the actress from her early work with Michael Powell, Tinto Brass and others.
Kendrick doesn’t lose her residual charm but there’s not much for her to work with. The revelation that one of the characters is having an affair is just sad. Such revelations are never resolved by lovemaking in the shower, as happens here. When Rezno walks up to a teenage girl and tells her that he has a big penis, you feel like hitting the exit.
In short, Table 19 is a regrettable entry into the wedding comedy genre, in which even the sight of the ever-grinning gangly Stephen Merchant as Walter stealing a wedding cake doesn’t raise a smile. It feels entirely misguided and is certainly an invitation you should decline. I entertained myself for this misspent 87 minutes imagining Wyatt Russell taking up his father’s role as Snake Plissken in Robert Rodriguez’s planned reboot of Escape from New York. It could happen.
Table 19 is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!