I've been reviewing films off and on for about five years. And if there
is one thing I've learned about criticism is that the vast,
unchallenged mean between absolutely great movies and downright
terrible ones hides a lot of non-committal fence sitting. I'm guilty of
it myself; in today's age of instant self-gratification, it's easy to
cobble together a knee-jerk opinion based on someone else's ideas.
Problem is those ideas, whether valid or not, sometimes creates a
subterfuge of undeserved hype or undeserved vitriol depending on the
circumstance. They feed a cycle of wafer-thin subjectivity masquerading
as authoritative proof of something's worth. This is why, for example a
movie like Equilibrium (2002) can be seen as something more than a
splashy Matrix (1999) rip-off while movies like Mystery Team (2009) are
swept under the rug.
So it is with Table 19, a movie no one will likely see because the
critical consensus is so bad that it's created its own negative
feedback loop. Table 19 takes place over the course of several hours of
a wedding reception at a rustic hotel lodge. As the happy couple
celebrates their new marriage amid friends and family, a small group of
strangers sit at the back table, forcing uncomfortable banter and
gracelessly ignoring the reason for their position in the back. Among
them are the argumentative Kepps (Kudlow and Robinson), the dotty Ms.
Jo (Squibb), gawky teen Renzo (Revolori), distant cousin Walter
(Merchant) and Eloise (Kendrick) the disgraced ex-Maid of Honor who was
dumped by the Best Man (Russell).
To say Table 19 is "ridiculous and a mess," is a bit of an
understatement. As critics rightly point out, the pacing is stop and
go, the editing is slapdash and the high-concept simply doesn't have
the wherewithal to make it through a feature-length movie. Once the
initial awkward niceties are flushed under the force of the first big
narrative reveal, the film descends into a checklist of soapy
plot-points and lazy character short hands. Much like 8 Heads in a
Duffel Bag (a similarly imperfect ensemble farce), Table 19 klutzily
mixes its farcical elements with broad, sweeping story setups and has
them slosh about until the runtime wears out. On top of it all, the
tone shifts wildly depending on who you're following at the time.
Thing is, I actually liked 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, and I liked Table
19 too for much the same reason. The characters, as broad as they may
be at times never ceased to entertain; Stephen Merchant's portrayal as
a familial pariah Franken-walking through the banquet hall is worth the
admission price alone. As are Renzo's far too honest conversations with
his mother (Martindale in a superb unseen role) which mostly consist of
him rolling his eyes while she pushes him to "get laid already." Behind
the Kepps' increasingly hostile quibbling and Grandma Jo's insistence
that she'll be remembered (just you wait), lays a unified feeling of
That feeling of melancholy along with some solid comedic setups and
payoffs permeate through the film's cosmetic faults. Every time you're
distracted by an awkward cut or taken aback by some of the more hammy
moments, the film quickly lulls you back with its quixotic charm.
Helping to dry up this mess and put it back into a nice looking bucket
is the relentless Anna Kendrick who by now has turned the neurotic
jilted girl archetype into a symbol of quasi-empowerment. While she
wins no brownie points for that here, there's something near noble
about the way she throws herself into the fray. She easily elevates an
already stellar cast and sells the hell out of the movies main conceit.
Much like the twangy banjo version of Pachabel's Canon in D that plays
over the film's title sequence, Table 19 is a unique version of a very
old cultural tradition. It's certainly not the best version of what it
could be but with more than a handful of charming performances, this
delightful little farce deserves a little better than the wedding
inspired japes it's been getting from critics. Perhaps it's a case of
ugly duckling syndrome on my part, but I'm going to go ahead and say "I
Do" to this one.