By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington On Movies: Table 19

Table 19 (** 1/2)
U.S.: 2017, Jeffrey Blitz

Smart, well-acted, good-humored, but not particularly funny or likable, Table 19 is another example of the great tradition of the American movie romantic comedy gone sadly astray. Written by Jay and Mark Duplass and directed by Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science), it’s another not-so-hot ensemble would-be romcom joke-fest about  a middle-class wedding party where everything goes wrong until a happy ending shows up to make it all go right—or sort of right and sort of happy.

This time out, instead of Four Weddings and a Funeral, or Wedding Crashers, or Bridesmaids, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding or some other such rousing tie-the-knot comedy, we get Table 19, led by that brainy little charmer Anna Kendrick—playing Eloise McGarry, one of the initially hapless denizens of this show’s infamous Table 19.  Ah, Table 19—That‘s the wrong-side wedding party locale, where all the guests who probably shouldn’t have been invited in the first place and who aren’t  on the greatest terms with either the bride’s or the groom’s factions, get siphoned off and dropped and hopefully forgotten—by everyone except the audience. Who may well want to.

As the rest of the guests revel in the usual movie wedding well-dressed, liquored-up bash, Eloise and her bunch of semi-pariahs suffer the ignominy of sort-of banishment. Seated at 19, way off in a corner, is, first of all, Eloise herself, who was the Bride’s best buddy and also the girlfriend of The best man (Wyatt Russell as Teddy), until Teddy dumped her, and the Bride got a new crony. Mistreatment that caused Eloise to nearly burn up the invitation when she received it.

But, at the party, surrounding Eloise, and ultimately becoming her instant buddies is a gallery of well-paid movie comedian misfits that include bickering hubby and wife Jerry and Edna Kepp (Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow), salty ex-nanny Jo Flanagan (Nebraska’s sharp-tongued Oscar nominee June Squibb), the ridiculously inept pick-up artist, Eckberg (Tony Revolori), and, from the British TV empire, gangly beanpole ex-(white collar) con Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant), who doesn‘t want everybody to know he just got out of stir, after getting caught for embezzling. As a special wedding movie table gift for Eloise there’s also an Aussie hunk Huck (Thomas Cocquerel), who seems to be around to supply Kendrick with another romantic option.

It’s a reasonably funny cast, and for a while, it seems a mystery that the movie itself is so lacking in humor or zip. But eventually, we come to the lamentable conclusion that unfunniness is this particular movie’s state of mind and of being, and we’re going to have to put up with it or leave, and just hope that the next show starring the sometimes genuinely amusing Anna Kendrick — or Craig Robinson, or Lisa Kudrow or Stephen Merchant or Tony Revolori  —has a droller script and snappier lines. Something more in the line of Up In The Air, that nimbly verbal white collar comedy that gave Anna Kendrick her best part.

Part of the problem with pictures like Table 19, may be that it’s too good-humored and civilized. Movie comedy often works better when we sense it’s capable of a bit more savagery and bile, or at least more comic realism. But Table 19, even when it turns a little mean (as in the foul-mouthed pickup attempts of Tony Revolori‘s Eckberg), never strikes us really as getting out of hand. I also found the happy ending not very satisfying, or happy, and the final coupling not something I was eager to see — or the wedding party a confab I especially wanted to attend. When a movie makes you long for Adam Sandler to show up and sing a few wedding songs, even in falsetto, it’s not a cinematic table you want to reserve a seat for — even with Anna Kendrick as a come-on, and a wedding party all up in the air.

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“I had this friend who was my roommate for a while. She seemed really normal in every way except that she wouldn’t buy shampoo. She would only use my shampoo. And after a year it’s like, “When are you going to buy your own shampoo?” It was her way of digging in her heels. It was a certain sense of entitlement, or a certain anger. It was so interesting to me why she wouldn’t buy her own fucking shampoo. It was like,“I’m gonna use yours.” It was coming from a place of “You have more money than me, I just know it”—whether I did or I didn’t. Or maybe she felt, “You have a better life than me,” or “You have a better room than me in the apartment.” It was hostile. And she was a really close friend! There was never any other shampoo and I knew she was washing her hair. And clearly I have a thing about shampoo, as we see in ‘Friends with Money.’ I had some nice shampoo. So I found that psychologically so interesting how a person can function normally in every way and yet have this aberrance—it’s like a skip in the record. It was a sense of entitlement, I think. I put that in Olivia’s character, too, with her stealing someone’s face cream.”
Nicole Holofcener

“When books become a thing, they can no longer be fine.

“Literary people get mad at Knausgård the same way they get mad at Jonathan Franzen, a writer who, if I’m being honest, might be fine. I’m rarely honest about Jonathan Franzen. He’s an extremely annoying manI have only read bits and pieces of his novels, and while I’ve stopped reading many novels even though they were pretty good or great, I have always stopped reading Jonathan Franzen’s novels because I thought they were aggressively boring and dumb and smug. But why do I think this? I didn’t read him when he was a new interesting writer who wrote a couple of weird books and then hit it big with ‘The Corrections,’ a moment in which I might have picked him up with curiosity and read with an open mind; I only noticed him once, after David Foster Wallace had died, he became the heir apparent for the Great American Novelist position, once he had had that thing with Oprah and started giving interviews in which he said all manner of dumb shit; I only noticed him well after I had been told he was An Important Writer.

“So I can’t and shouldn’t pretend that I am unmoved by the lazily-satisfied gentle arrogance he projects or when he is given license to project it by the has-the-whole-world-gone-crazy development of him being constantly crowned and re-crowned as Is He The Great American Writer. What I really object to is this, and if there’s anything to his writing beyond it, I can’t see it and can’t be bothered. Others read him and tell me he’s actually a good writer—people whose critical instincts I have learned to respect—so I feel sure that he’s probably a perfectly fine, that his books are fine, and that probably even his stupid goddamned bird essays are probably also fine.

“But it’s too late. He has become a thing; he can’t be fine.”
~ Aaron Bady