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’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many recappers, while clearly over their heads, are baseline sympathetic to finding themselves routinely unmoored, even if that means repeating over and over that this is closer to “avant-garde art” than  normal TV to meet the word count. My feed was busy connecting the dots to Peter Tscherkassky (gas station), Tony Conrad (the giant staring at feedback of what we’ve just seen), Pat O’Neill (bombs away) et al., and this is all apposite — visual and conceptual thinking along possibly inadvertent parallel lines. If recappers can’t find those exact reference points to latch onto, that speaks less to willful ignorance than to how unfortunately severed experimental film is from nearly all mainstream discussions of film because it’s generally hard to see outside of privileged contexts (fests, academia, the secret knowledge of a self-preserving circle working with a very finite set of resources and publicity access to the larger world); resources/capital/access/etc. So I won’t assign demerits for willful incuriosity, even if some recappers are reduced, in some unpleasantly condescending/bluffing cases, to dismissing this as a “student film” — because presumably experimentation is something the seasoned artist gets out of their system in maturity, following the George Lucas Model of graduating from Bruce Conner visuals to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting.”
~ Vadim Rizov Goes For It, A Bit

“On the first ‘Twin Peaks,’ doing TV was like going from a mansion to a hut. But the arthouses are gone now, so cable television is a godsend — they’re the new art houses. You’ve got tons of freedom to do the work you want to do on TV, but there is a restriction in terms of picture and sound. The range of television is restricted. It’s hard for the power and the glory to come through. In other words, you can have things in a theater much louder and also much quieter. With TV, the quieter things have to be louder and the louder things have to be quieter, so you have less dynamics. The picture quality — it’s fine if you have a giant television with a good speaker system, but a lot of people will watch this on their laptops or whatever, so the picture and the sound are going to suffer big time. Optimally, people should be watching TV in a dark room with no disturbances and with as big and good a picture as possible and with as great sound as possible.”
~ David Lynch