Sugar Crash: “Table 19” Serves Up Comedy That Tastes Good, Then Tires Us Out

Film Poster: Table 19

Table 19 (Jeffrey Blitz, 2017) 2½ out of 4 stars

A minor trifle, Table 19 nevertheless manages to be quite entertaining when it sticks to comedy; it’s when it attempts to resolve the disparate story threads with pat sentimentality that things break down. For a while, the laughs come in great big waves, after which they wash ashore as mere chuckles, weighed down by facile dramatics. Still, what joys exist, early on, are great enough to warrant recommending the film as a pleasant-enough diversion, buoyed by a charming cast that does its best with a lightweight script.

That screenplay is written by Jay and Mark Duplass (Jeff, Who Lives at Home) – both of whom have previously created more meaningful work than this – and directed by Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science). The story centers around the unwanted guests at a wedding – those whom no one expected to RSVP in the affirmative – who are placed at the table furthest away from everyone, assigned together via the randomness of their undesirability. There’s Eloise (Anna Kendrick, The Accountant), ex-girlfriend of the bride’s brother; Jo (June Squibb, Nebraska), forgotten childhood nanny to the bride; Bina (Lisa Kudrow, Neighbors) and Jerry (Craig Robinson, Morris from America), an unhappily married couple who vaguely know a member of the wedding party; Rezno, (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a high-school student whose mother thought he’d have better romantic luck here than at his junior prom, and is somehow also connected to one of the marrying families; and Walter (Stephen Merchant, Tooth Fairy), ex-con cousin to the bride who once stole money from her father. They make for delightfully odd table-fellows, which the raison d’être of the plot, and their mismatch results in initial hilarity. Later, however, when the premise runs out of creative ways to sustain itself, their idiosyncrasies become less engaging.

(From L-R): 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

Still, when the film works, it’s good fun. Kendrick, especially, has a breezy way about her that makes her always watchable. But the true comic genius of the movie is Merchant, who imbues his sad-sack Walter with an awkward melancholy that, combined with his off-kilter line delivery, renders him consistently surprising. Everyone else is perfectly fine, but it’s those two who keep the story going long after its expiration date. See it for them, and for the first half, after which do not expect too much.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a regular film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice."
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