Whenever one of my siblings gets married, my mother gets asked by several people – including both family and strangers – how many of her children she has “left” to marry off. It doesn’t matter how old or financially independent her single children are: marriage, along with other milestones like home-ownership and obtaining a job with health insurance, is considered a key landmark on the path toward adulthood. As someone who has been to dozens of weddings and who has been invited to many others, I would posit that the real nuptial marker of adulthood is not getting married. It’s learning that you do not have to go to every wedding to which you are invited. If you’re truly humble and enlightened, you’ll figure out that in some cases, the wedding host would prefer that you “decline with regret.”
The central characters in the new film Table 19 have not yet learned that lesson. The fact that they’re at the wedding is pretty awkward for each of them, as it is for the people who didn’t expect to see them there. It’s a premise that has a lot of potential, but the movie wavers between earnest rom-com and smart dark comedy, never quite living up to its promise.
Table 19 mostly takes place over the course of one 12-hour span, and the premise is pretty simple: Anna Kendrick’s Eloise was the maid-of-honor in her best friend’s wedding, until she got dumped by the bride’s brother. She decides to attend the wedding anyway, but instead of sitting with the wedding party, she gets relegated to the table for people no one thought would show: a couple the groom’s father knows tangentially through business (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), the bride’s childhood nanny (June Squibb), the bride’s estranged uncle (Stephen Merchant), and Renzo (Tony Revolori), an awkward teenager whose connection to the wedding I admittedly can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter how he’s connected, or really how any of them are. The point is that they’re a ragtag bunch of randoms who spend the length of the movie becoming friendly, and navigating the kinds of problems that can ostensibly be solved in one afternoon/evening.
The condensed timeframe and singular location of a Michigan resort give the movie the feel of a play, and the resulting intimacy puts the film on the shoulders of the script and the cast. Fortunately, both the writers (Jay and Mark Duplass) and the actors come with cache. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough. The acting falls on a spectrum from fine to pretty good, but Merchant is the only standout. He easily goes with the flow, pivoting halfway through the movie from a set of jokes about his history with the penal system to a different gag about a jacket that fits with the catering staff uniform.
Merchant is a gifted comedian, but he’s aided by the inconsequential nature of his character’s storyline. And that’s the key to what separates what’s good about Table 19 from what is not: when the stakes are low – someone needs a self-esteem boost or to make some new friends – the movie just feels like a breezy comedy. But in an effort to add depth or maybe darkness to the comedy, the Duplass brothers falter by creating complicated relationships and plotlines that get wrapped up too quickly. The worst offender is the story of Jerry and Bina (Robinson and Kudrow), who seem to have very real marital problems that get a fast, pat resolution. Eloise’s conflicts seem too easily and questionably solved as well. Although if she doesn’t have friends to sit her down and tell her to seriously reconsider her options and decisions, maybe she has bigger problems than this 90-minute comedy revealed.
Table 19 has some solid jokes and June Squibb, but it doesn’t feel like a great use of an hour and a half or of a promising premise. There are hints of darkness in Table 19, and the movie would have been more interesting if the script didn’t eventually wipe them away in favor of tying everything up in a set of bows. A happy ending isn’t always a satisfying one, even in – maybe especially in – wedding stories.