Unless you’re one of the lucky few who gets to parade around in the bride and groom inner circle, weddings are atrocious affairs, filled with sitting, waiting and talking with strangers you’d more than likely avoid in everyday life. And, much like the seven circles of hell, the further you get away from the wedding party, the more the torment increases until you’re just not sure why you showed up in the first place.
This is the genius behind the idea of Table 19, a quirky and awkward indie-wannabe comedy starring Anna Kendrick. Unfortunately, any initial greatness the idea possessed dies upon implementation and is tossed in its own leper colony along the way.
Ex-maid of honor Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) is dumped by her boyfriend, whom also happens to be the best man, through a text message and is asked not to perform her maid-of-honor duties. Because I guess the best man decides that now? Anyway, after much deliberation, Eloise decides to attend the wedding and is relegated to table 19, the random people table. In the meantime, Eloise meets a mysterious handsome stranger and gets to ride along on the standard degenerate adventure of discovering that the loser table is filled with interesting people.
It’s difficult to see what exactly the writers (The Duplass Brothers) are going for in Table 19. Clearly, they want to dive head first into awkward situations at weddings, but they do it in the most plotless and boring way imaginable. Many of the jokes and one-liners fall flat, either because the writing is bad or the actors couldn’t deliver.
Too often the actors are trying too hard to be funny. The tone shifts frequently and in stark contrasts to each other from comedy to drama to indie. None of these tonal shifts are earned in the story, making it annoying when a character you know little about gives a drawn out speech about his feelings or when a nanny makes offhanded comments about abortion.
At first glance, you might wonder if Table 19 struggles with understanding basic story structure. The first half is a plotless, awkward mess involving quirky Kendrick just trying not to be awkward. The other characters at table 19 are equally boring with minor subplots that act as superficial gags rather than anything substantial.
We know little about Kendrick’s character and for a story focused primarily on characters and relationships, having a three-dimensional protagonist would be a good start. Of course, as the story progresses we learn little bits here and there but it doesn’t really add up to much. By the time we get to know the characters at all, the movie is almost over.
By the end of the second act, when all the losers at table 19 decide to skip the wedding and bond together because of story requirements, it’s obvious the story structure is deliberately rebelling. The characters all literally go wander around in the woods for a while. No reason is given for their actions. No focus is presented. Like, “Hey, I got an idea, let’s all go get bitten by ticks!” That would have been better than nothing at all.
For spending so much time having characters find themselves, very little is gleaned from the woodland excursion except maybe more over-the-top drama and exposition. The writer’s refusal to give the characters focus, and their obvious attempts to go out of their way to avoid cliches while at the same time committing them, is infuriating.
For her part, Anna Kendrick does the best she can with what she’s given, a well-intentioned attempt at bringing to life a hollow and boring character. If you like Anna Kendrick, then you’ll enjoy a nice helping of her personality.
Stephen Merchant plays the oddball, and he’s perhaps the funniest character with great comedic timing and line delivery. There’s plenty of humor in the movie, and by humor, I mean lazy gags. Some of it works but most of it doesn’t — that’s large in part because the characters are poorly written. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson’s characters are a couple with the most depth, struggling to rekindle their dying relationship — but that rocky drama overshadowed their greater comedic strengths. Nothing else works in this movie, and none of the other actors bring much of anything to the table.
Table 19 is a great idea, an idea that deserves a better story and better execution, something the writers decided to abandon in their attempt to avoid cliche land mines. The results are haphazard at best. I’ll admit if you’re a fan of Anna Kendrick or if you just want to watch a poorly written comedy about wedding drama, then you might find this to be worth your time. If anything, it’ll be a guilty pleasure for you. For everyone else, you’ll be better off waiting for Bridesmaids 2.
Photos courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures