Rocket Science director Jeffrey Blitz’s second feature film in ten years, Table 19, begins as a bitterly funny screwball romantic comedy and ends as a mumblecore dramedy with moments of real human pathos intermingled with the slapstick. Starring Anna Kendrick as jilted ex-maid of honor Eloise after being dumped by the best man over text message, Eloise reluctantly attends her best friend’s wedding anyway only to find herself seated at Table 19 among random guests she’s never met.
Pairing the unlikely comic talents of Lisa Kudrow as a bored housewife, Craig Robinson as her husband and diner co-owner, June Squibb as the bride’s former nanny turned aging pothead, Stephen Merchant as an ex-con and Tony Revolori as a prepubescent horn dog, the film skirts freely between sketch comedy and revelatory dialogue exchanges leaning toward self-actualization. Think of the rejects in the van in Little Miss Sunshine sitting at a wedding table together and you’ve a rough idea of what you’re in for.
Written by mumblecore torchbearers Mark and Jay Duplass of Cyrus and Baghead, Table 19 is a modestly sized warm hearted little comic gem that is less interested in plot than allowing the characters to roam freely in their own respective acts of self-discovery. At the most fundamental level, it’s a film about a group of ostracized curmudgeons who slowly realize they’ve more in common than initially thought. As with most mumblecore indie dramedies, Table 19 runs the risk of meandering in the third act as the comic energy of the first half starts to run out, but the cast holds it together so well you find yourself not caring that much of it consists of these people talking amongst themselves about their lives.
Arguably the strongest cast member is the spitfire Kendrick who spouts off her acerbic dialogue with impeccable comic timing, although I also have to say Lisa Kudrow who only made a brief appearance in last year’s The Girl on the Train has never been better. The only characters left to the wayside are the ex-con and horny teen, relegated to recurring slapstick gags to soften up the dramedy. Another strong surprise is Everybody Wants Some actor Wyatt Russell as the “chump” who dumped Eloise. Initially we’re conditioned to hate him, until we hear his side of the story in one of the film’s more poignant exchanges. It’s a startlingly emotional performance I was not expecting thanks to how well Russell sells it.
Fans of the screwball wedding comedy of errors movie will get a kick out of Table 19 while mumblecore fans will be elated by the emphasis on improvisational dialogue and shoestring production values. As for myself, not necessarily being a hardcore fan of either subgenre, Table 19 strikes a happy medium and provides one of the more surprising and oddly touching comic experience you’re likely to have at the multiplex this month. Like I said, the third act does tend to slow down and lose some of the steam it had been bottling up over the first half, but overall I had a fun time at this cute, acerbic, funny, sad and genuinely touching romantic comedy.
- Andrew Kotwicki