Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Tony Revolori, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, Wyatt Russell, Margo Martindale, Amanda Crew, Thomas Cocquerel, Andrew Daly, Richard Haylor.
People do weird things at weddings. Weddings, parties, or any dysfunctional gatherings are great fodder for filmmakers. The lavish wedding party that goes awry is particularly fertile territory, and we’ve had numerous films like Bride Wars, Rachel At The Wedding, Robert Altman’s sprawling A Wedding, etc that have exploited the material with mixed results. This uneven comedy/drama from Jeffrey Blitz (the Oscar nominated 2002 documentary Spellbound, etc) centres around six oddball characters who find themselves seated together on the random table at the Millner/Grotsky wedding reception. These people comprise “the table that should have known to send ‘regrets’, but not before sending something nice off the registry,” according to the bride’s mother.
Eloise McGarry (the always watchable Anna Kendrick) was reluctant to attend the wedding after having been unceremoniously dumped from her maid of honour duties when her former boyfriend Teddy (Wyatt Russell) dumped her via sms. Teddy is not only the best man but he is also the bride’s brother. And Eloise had helped plan the wedding before it all fell apart. At first Eloise was reluctant to attend the reception, but she decides to turn up even though it may well turn out to be a humiliating experience. And at first that what it seems like as she has been relegated to the so-called random table at the back of the ballroom populated by misfits and people whose connection to the bride is sketchy at best.
Joining Eloise at the table are squabbling and unhappily married couple Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and former Friends star Lisa Kudrow) who own a small diner business that is struggling. There is also awkward hormonal teen Renzo (played by Tony Revolori, the naïve but loyal bellhop from The Grand Budapest Hotel, etc) who has been pressured in to attending by his overbearing mother (Margo Martindale). He is awkward around girls and is dealing with some major mother issues. Jo Flanagan (June Squibb, from Nebraska, etc) is the bride’s pot smoking former nanny who the bride hasn’t seen for a couple of decades, while the tall and ungainly Walter (Stephen Merchant) is a distant relative and the black sheep of the family. Newly released from prison he has been ostracised by the rest of the family, so his presence at the reception is awkward and uncomfortable. But slowly these mismatched guests manage to bond over conversations and constantly sneaking away from the reception to enjoy themselves elsewhere. They also learn some important life lessons. Secrets are revealed, and unlikely friendships develop over the course of the night.
Table 19 is only Blitz’s second fictional feature, and he has spent the better part of the last decade working on television sitcoms, which probably suit his offbeat sensibility better. His direction here is rather listless and the film is unevenly paced. This is a rather dull, laboured and somewhat cliched production. Despite a brisk running time of just over 90 minutes the film outstays its welcome, a bit like an unwelcome guest. There are several subplots running through the film but some of them seem to go nowhere.
Much of the slapstick humour seems forced, and some of the gags you can actually see coming a mile away. There was plenty of scope for some great comedic observations and characters here, and the setup was ripe with possibilities. Some embarrassing wedding reception shenanigans may strike a chord with audiences who have attended the odd wedding. There’s weddings singers and wedding crashers to add to the mix. But the film misses the mark and comes across as a missed opportunity. Even Adam Sandler managed to make a decent comedy using wedding parties as a backdrop. Somewhat surprisingly this lacklustre and witless generic comedy has been written by Jay and Mark Duplass who have carved out a considerable reputation for themselves in the world of mumblecore comedy. Much of the humour here falls flat.
Blitz has assembled a strong ensemble cast but they struggle to make these oddball characters likeable or worth spending time with. Kendrick is normally charming and witty with a bubbly presence, and she usually has great comedic timing. Although she tries hard here she is unable to save this misfire. Blitz previously directed Kendrick with much better results in 2007’s Rocket Science, her breakthrough role. Merchant has a creepy and mildly unsettling presence as Walter and some of his attempts to strike up a conversation are indeed awkward and cringeworthy. Russell has some fine moments as the shaggy, insecure, shallow Teddy. Robinson can be quite crude and very funny when given the right opportunities, but here he seems muted and a little uncomfortable.
Table 19 is also visually bland. Cinematographer Ben Richardson (The Fault In Our Stars, etc) has shot the film with all the flair and energy of a bad television movie. The production design from first time designer Timothy David O’Brien is also fairly bland.
This is one invitation you would be wise to turn down. This wedding crashes.