REVIEW: Table 19 (2017)

Six people arrive at a wedding, only to find themselves relegated to a back end table away from family and friends: the fighting married couple of Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), lustful teenager Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori), the bride’s childhood nanny June Squibb (Jo Flanagan), family cousin and parolee Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant), and Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) – former Maid of Honour relegated to the wedding’s fringe after breaking up with the bride’s brother (Wyatt Russell).

Table 19 is a quietly delightful comedy; one that confines itself to a specific place and time, and which uses its ensemble cast to great effect to both showcase the characters and give each of them their own storyline in which to shine. It was released theatrically back in 2017 to particularly sniffy reviews, and I am honestly not sure why. There is admittedly nothing groundbreaking here, but it has sufficient laughs to be funny and enough of a character focus to have some heart as well. Barring a few narrative missteps it is likeable, satisfying fare.

Where the film particularly excels is its casting. Anna Kendrick has a long, proven track record for playing these sorts of troubled romantic protagonists, and does a good job here of portraying Eloise’s more-than-it-seems resentment at her banishment to the back table and her ex-boyfriend’s sudden new girlfriend. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson offer a reliably funny marriage on the rocks. Jo Flanagan, like Kendrick, gets a good opportunity to play a character more complicated than she first appears and plays it better the longer the film goes on. Tony Revolori feels somewhat out of place; his over-eager teenager on the hunt for a date feels as if he has been cut from a lesser teen comedy filming on an adjacent soundstage. Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt, is making a growing number of appearances in film, yet still has not quite shaken the college jock persona he used in 22 Jump Street.

Stephen Merchant emerges as the film’s best element. Tall, awkward, and gangling around the wedding like a gate-crashing extra-terrestrial, he offers far and away the best value in terms of laughs per minute of screen time. Merchant has been a growing presence in film and television for some years now, and yet it still feels as if he has not quite hit ‘the big time’ as his talent demands he should. Discerning comedy fans have, of course, been following his work for years.

Writer/director Jeffrey Blitz mostly does a solid job. The film is well-paced and energetic, and the comic timing is well on-point. He has shifted a long way from his 2002 debut; the Oscar-nominated spelling bee documentary Spellbound. While Eloise is clearly the film’s protagonist, it is remarkable how evenly Blitz balances his other lead characters. The film only seriously wobbles in its final act, when Eloise makes a romantic step where the story had previously pushing her towards a satisfaction with staying single. It is a climax a little too warm to stereotypes, and takes some of the shine off the movie right when it should be polishing it instead.

Table 19 does not linger in the mind, but it satisfies well enough for about 90 minutes. It is nice to see an ensemble cast work as well as this one does. For fans of comedy in general, it is an affable and warm diversion, but more general viewers may not be so impressed. This is not a great film, but it is a reasonably good one.

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