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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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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