Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity
Written by Jay and Mark Duplass
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephan Merchant, Wyatt Russell, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Tony Revolori and more
Grade: Three stars
“Table 19” is one of those rare movies that rewards your patience.
For the first half of the film, it seems exactly like the sort of decent but unimaginative awkward comedy the trailers made it out to be. Somewhere around the middle, however, it slowly starts to stretch its wings, play with the clichés it seemed to embrace, and become both deeper and more relaxed at the same moment. By the end, it’s a sweet, surprisingly honest and wonderfully funny ensemble piece that cares more about its characters than its precise genre.
Though a brief opening scene is set earlier, most of the movie chronicles the afternoon and evening of a wedding reception. Rather than the bride and groom, however, the focus is on the inhabitants of Table 19 – the very last table in the very back corner of the reception hall. The table is populated by a collection of lose-ends that feels like an adult riff on “The Breakfast Club”: the bride’s old nanny, the awkward teenager hoping to dance with a girl, the married couple who barely know either the bride or groom, the screw-up cousin, and the girl who was the maid of honor until she and the bride’s brother (aka the best man) broke up recently and dramatically.
Given these players, the first half of the movie plays out like you’d expect. The couple fight, the teen tries and fails to talk to girls, the cousin dramatically avoids all questions about his past, the nanny tries to get her connection to the bride validated and the former maid of honor is distracted from her ex by a mysterious, attractive stranger. Awkward comedies are their own genre, with their own carefully proscribed rhythms, and the storylines all unspool in textbook, embarrassment-inducing fashion.
Then an unexpected reveal sends the characters, and the storyline as a whole, off in an entirely new direction. Predictable character set-ups shift, letting the audience see something deeper and more complicated than the archetypes we were shown at the beginning. The characters are actually allowed to interact in a real, honest way, revealing a gentle chemistry that manages to dramatically increase everyone’s likeability. From that springs some beautifully touching scenes, an unexpectedly lovely romance, and the biggest, purest laugh a comedy has given me in years.
The cast is all great, handling the shifting tones like the pros they are. Kendrick is often underused in her movies, but here she gets to show off her full range from screwball comedy to heartbreak and manages to nail every moment. Stephen Merchant and Wyatt Russell both bring unexpected sweetness to their characters, while June Squibb brings a welcome edge of toughness to hers. Though I never would have guessed it, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson have an unexpected chemistry that makes their marriage surprisingly believable. Tony Revolori brings a nicely dry edge to what could have been a one-note character.
Together, they make a strange sort of magic that I won’t forget anytime soon. If you’d told me that during the first half of the movie, however, I never would have believed it.