REVIEW: Table 19 [2017]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: March 3rd, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Jeffrey Blitz
Writer(s): Jeffrey Blitz / Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass and Jeffrey Blitz (story)

“Good luck with your future endeavors”

I’d be very interested in reading the original script for Table 19 as drafted by Jay and Mark Duplass. If you don’t know, this 2017 release was optioned way back in 2009 with the brothers attached to direct as their fourth feature (it was competing with Cyrus as far as what would be next). Two years went by and it was still unmade, the studio hiring Jeffrey Blitz to come in and take over the helm. More than just directorial duties, however, Blitz took over all aspects right down to the script. Suddenly what was billed as a small-scale look at a wedding reception’s “loser singles table” to discern the true meaning of love and marriage became a farcical comedy of revenge-fueled hijinks led by a woman scorned.

I wonder if the Duplass’ original script was as comically broad as Blitz’s or if the out-of-place emotion and introspection in its current form are the final remnants of what once was. These moments peering underneath surface appearances to realize love is messy are the film’s most interesting parts, but they have become lost amidst the random bursts of insanity that hijacked the plot. They become secondary, unrealized periphery threads on behalf of a supporting cast relegated to accomplices rather than fully-formed characters. The main thrust becomes centered on what Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick)—who as of two months ago was the bride’s brother’s girlfriend and maid of honor—will do. The others are drawn into her orbit, their complexities pushing them to help her rather then themselves.

It doesn’t start or even end this way, though, since each is allowed an epiphany moment (despite being more to raise self-esteem and feel included than solve actual problems). The beginning provides them equal weight to the teary-eyed Eloise checking off “Not Attending” before switching to “Attending” and back again until she sets the invite on fire. Their inclusion is oftentimes a stretch, but we cut them slack because it’s a comedy. We’ve come to see what happens when they’re together, not how they get together. So we laugh at the humorously combative marriage of diner owners Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina Kepp (Lisa Kudrow), the over-enthusiastic former nanny Jo (June Squibb), endearing mess of a teen Rezno (Tony Revolori), and not-all-there white-collar criminal cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant).

We laugh because they’re absurd. It’s fun watching the Kepps give each other the finger while Jo relentlessly tries to prove their table isn’t full of castaways because she doesn’t want to believe she is one. It’s uncomfortable in a good way to listen to Rezno’s mother (played off-screen by Margo Martindale) phone him horrible advice on how to pick up emotionally-vulnerable girls at the wedding and Walter stumble through his innocently naïve inability to lie without being given material to steal in order to do so. The latter pair can get grating, but Revolori and Merchant are charming enough in their awkwardness to excel nonetheless. The weirder the gag is, the better—each unexpected retort or action a potential laugh-out-loud experience. Sadly these misfits are merely coloring.

The lead is Eloise and she steals the spotlight and attention throughout even if she’s the least interesting of the group. Sure there’s a tumultuous amount of drama surrounding her considering she’s gone from table one to nineteen in a matter of sixty days, but it’s initially so pedestrian in comparison to the others. She was dumped by an idiot (Wyatt Russell‘s Teddy is very much presented as one) and came anyway. She has a reputation for going big when angry so he and new Maid of Honor Nikki (Amanda Crew) are torn between vindictiveness and caution about what their future holds. And so we prepare ourselves for the potential of “big” only to discover a thinly veiled secret screeching everything to a halt with its somber tone.

This is why I wonder what happened in the six years from option to production because the final piece is constantly at war with itself tonally. We are thrown into the nonsense in a way that makes us gleeful about the sheer lack of seriousness. We are promised idiocy and to some extent receive it thanks to a long-running blazer bit (one of the misfits is dressed identically to the wait staff), Merchant’s brilliant comedic timing, and Revolori’s juxtaposition of chivalrous “manners” and lack of sexual boundaries. Stereotypes like the promiscuous cousin (Maria Thayer‘s Kate), drunken mother (Becky Ann Baker‘s Carol), and over-zealous business associate (Andy Blitz‘s Donny) enter to uneven effect, but they’re no match for the shoehorned, underlying heartstring tug of empathy, forgiveness, and regret.

It’s unfortunate none of this overwrought emotion is surprising once revealed. The secrets aren’t twists, they’re inevitable revelations laying dormant two scenes too long. Eloise’s truth leads into a dramatically wonderful confrontation between her and Teddy around halfway through that proves as resonating as it is out-of-place. Suddenly we sympathize with Teddy a bit, understand appearances aren’t as they seem, and find ourselves thrown into a melodrama where everyone we thought was just comic relief has their own half-baked tragic backstory to make this wedding more than mere escape. In comes melancholy as grievances are aired and hopes are dashed (until they aren’t). What results isn’t a plea for redemption; it’s one for acceptance. You aren’t better than you believe. You’re as fallible as the rest.

And that’s a commendable message if only it wasn’t constantly subverted by inane humor. Blitz just isn’t proficient enough to balance these conflicting ideas so that we aren’t afforded the time to pick apart small details when the shift in emphasis breaks us free from the story’s hold. Actions start to become obvious, drawn up very specifically for a punch line of laughter or tears depending on what the filmmaker want. He introduces a secondary love interest in Huck (Thomas Cocquerel) to play with his lead (and us) rather than add anything of worth. We guess who he is almost immediately and wonder where it will go. The answer is nowhere. His inclusion is just to let the character realize too late what we already did. It’s frustrating.

I had a pleasant time, I really did. I audibly chuckled and found the misfits expertly cast. But Eloise doesn’t belong. Her drama doesn’t fit their zaniness or their excuse for drama paling in comparison due to feeling tacked on (save Kudrow’s nuanced Bina with motivations worthy of her own film). Eloise needs more than hijinks to survive her unimaginable predicament, but that’s all Blitz provides her. The others are built on performances that deserve more room to grow naturally too. It’s as though Blitz thought the Duplass’ script wasn’t funny enough and infused broad absurdity without realizing its adverse affect on the drama (or the other way around). I enjoy being entertained, but I never cared enough about anyone here to forget how empty that entertainment was.

[1] Lisa Kudrow as “Bina,” Craig Robinson as “Jerry,” June Squibb as “Jo,” Stephen Merchant as “Walter,” Anna Kendrick as “Eloise,” and Tony Revolori as “Renzo” in TABLE 19. Photo by Jace Downs. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
[2] Tony Revolori as “Renzo” and Anna Kendrick as “Eloise” in the film TABLE 19. Photo by Jace Downs. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
[3] Lisa Kudrow as “Bina” and Craig Robinson as “Jerry” in the film TABLE 19. Photo by Jace Downs. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

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