By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
“Table 19” is that confounding kind of movie where it clearly as all of the pieces to be interesting and engaging film, it has a winning cast, and the things that happen on screen are theoretically good. And yet the film just doesn’t quite work.
Anna Kendrick plays a former Maid of Honor who, after being dumped by the bride’s brother, is downgraded to Table 19, where the random and unwanted guests are dumped. There, she meets a struggling couple, a former nanny in denial about her diminished place, an socially awkward ex-con and a sex-obsessed teenager.
On paper, that is a brilliant concept, brining this group of mysterious outsiders in one of the most awkward social positions imaginable, slowly revealing more about themselves over time. And to a certain extent, it achieves that potential, as steady and frequently surprising revelations reveal hidden personality and life in each of the seeming caricatures. Having Anna as an insider helps add a level of intrigue to their various hijinks that is never fully realized. The main cast play off each other incredibly well, as Anna, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Lisa Kudrow and June Squibb all bring low key and dry performances that fit in this slightly heightened reality. And when the film decides to have a quiet, thoughtful or genuine, it typically works out of context with the rest of the film.
It’s also worth appreciating how genuinely excellent the world of “Table 19” is. While plenty of films have attempted to recreate the mood and style of a typical middle class wedding, few have captured the environment better than “Table.” You’ve been in a dance hall like this before, presumably with the same decorations. And the few glimpses we get out the other guests outside the main guests are all funny and hit close to home. If the creative team’s mission statement was to present a real life wedding and make jokes off of that, they did a fairly good job.
And yet, in spite of these positives, why does the film unable to break the chains of mediocre adequacy? The genuine emotional moments feel unearned, the jokes never earn more than a chuckle, the revelations of each character never have the punch they should, and the ending feels almost incorrect.
One of the biggest problems is pacing. The characters all start of snippy and antagonistic, making it hard to route for them and their arcs to friendship muddled (in general, you need a map to make any sense of the emotional state of each character from scene to scene). There are so many extraneous and muddled subplots that whenever an emotional moment happens, the reactions “oh, we were supposed to care about that?” It gets to a point where there are 10 minute stretches of the film just dedicated to resolving plot threads that haven’t been addressed since they were introduced almost an hour prior.
The biggest problem comes with Anna’s character. Kendrick is a great actor who tries her best to make this character work, but pretty much from frame one, ‘Eloise’ is more of a series of quirks: awkward, cynical, manic, and with no consistent mood or personality. The ultimate story boils down to her and her ex, trying to make senses of what went wrong. They try to make a earnest and sincere message from them talking through their problems, but unfortunately it feels unearned because neither character is given enough personality to feel real, to make the moral feel real.
“Table 19” is perfectly fine. It’s occasionally funny, occasionally compelling, and occasionally well executed. There’s nothing particularly well executed. It is a perfectly serviceable, disposable film. Your enjoyment may vary depending on your love of the actors involved or your tolerance for cringe based comedy.