Film Review: Table 19

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Entering the august company of such merry-band-of-misfits movies as The Breakfast Club comes Table 19, the latest from Spellbound and Rocket Science director Jeffrey Blitz. Though boasting a famously small scale—one location; a handful of principals; a story that’s high on talk, low on plot—the John Hughes classic is made more than the sum of its parts by a nuanced, tightly woven jigsaw of a script that crafts fully rounded characters from the smallest of details.

It’s a quality that Table 19 doesn’t share.

Jay and Mark Duplass, who developed the story along with writer-director Blitz, swap out The Breakfast Club’s high-school detention quintet with six wedding guests consigned to the dreaded “random” table. There’s Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the ex-maid of honor banished from the inner circle after being dumped by the bride’s brother; bickering married couple Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry (Craig Robinson), who attend the wedding despite barely knowing anyone there; socially awkward and desperately horny middle-school student Renzo (Tony Revolori, who looks young, but not that young); the bride’s cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), straight from prison; and Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny, whose naïve insistence as to her closeness with her former charge is belied by her inauspicious seat assignment.

The Duplass brothers have ample experience with talk-heavy comedy/dramas, which just makes one wonder what happened here all the more. Table 19 is very half-baked. “A group of strangers bond at a wedding reception” is fine as a concept, but the script could have used another draft or five to tease out character intricacies. As it is, we don’t have much more insight into Eloise, Renzo and the rest at the end of the movie than we did at the beginning.

The script teases out revelations about characters’ intentions and backstories with clockwork regularity, but those twists don’t deepen our understanding of them. Ostensibly dramatic monologues land flat because we just plain don’t care about the people delivering them. Tension between Eloise and her ex Teddy (Wyatt Russell) culminates in a tearful conversation about how and why their relationship came to an end. But Blitz pulled the necessary exposition out of his screenwriting hat not five minutes prior, so it’s not like the audience has had time—or, for that matter, reason—to get invested. Conflict that’s simmered for an hour-plus is awkwardly wrapped up in the final act in a way that borders on hilarious, if not intentionally so.

The actors suffer for this deficiency. It’s a talented group who have proven their mettle in the past, but for the most part they’re unable to transcend the one-note nature of their characters. It’s hard not to watch Robinson, for example, and compare how good he was in last year’s Morris from America to how listless, almost bored, he is here. Russell is talented, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his forced turn as Teddy, the irresponsible jerk with a heart of gold. Merchant, at least, is funny, and Squibb imbues Jo with a pathetic, endearing sort of charm. But the worthwhile bits sprinkled throughout aren’t enough to rescue Table 19 from an overwhelming sense of pointlessness.

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