Back in the early days of my online film geekdom, I used to take part in a fantasy film league, inspired by fantasy sports leagues. You take the role of a producer and using your budget for the season, you choose six stars to be in your made-up film. The box office returns of that film are then determined by the real life box office successes of those stars throughout the season.
Table 19 could have been cast in much the same way as you’d cast one of those fantasy films. Your budget would usually stretch to one A-lister, two comedy stars, two supporting actors from recent Oscar-nominated films and one of the leads from Friends, and such a spread would generally cover a number of different audiences and maximise your box office chances. This one probably doesn’t have such mercenary objectives, but there’s no denying that the strong cast helps it in other ways.
Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science), this wedding reception dramedy opens on a tearful Eloise (Anna Kendrick) agonising over an RSVP to her former best friend’s wedding, having recently been dumped by the bride’s shiftless brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell). She finds herself relegated to the dreaded titular table, filled with misfits “who should have known to RSVP regrets”.
These include the bride’s nanny (June Squibb), the groom’s socially awkward uncle (Stephen Merchant), a couple who are Facebook friends of the groom’s father (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow) and a teenage virgin (Tony Revolori) who’s missing his senior prom to try and pull in a room full of people he doesn’t know. Though dejected at the thought that no one at the reception would miss them if they disappeared, the six of them form an unlikely support group to make it through the day.
For a while, it seems as if the bride and groom are going to be treated like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon, focusing instead on the least important guests in the room. It’s a straightfoward premise and nobody involved is over-exerting themselves here, but it’s elevated considerably by its charming cast. Quite aside from their characteristics as movie stars to date, the comic range of these six actors is formidable and they almost do enough just by showing up.
After her fun turn in last year’s Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates, Kendrick is on reliably adorable form as another jilted wedding guest enduring someone else’s nuptials. Where a broader comedy would have her burst into a fit of the screaming habdabs at the merest provocation, this is a more low-key and tasteful affair, and the film grows out of its dinner table awkwardness right out of the first act, just as soon as Russell’s arsehole ex-boyfriend is fleshed out a little more than we expect.
The movie also puts on a decent spread for Robinson and Kudrow, both of whom are better known for their comedic scene-stealing, as a bickering couple whose relationship takes an unexpected turn during a rollercoaster of a day. Together, they grow to dramatic heights that ultimately outreach the film’s grasp, but it’s intriguing to see them both working so well against type together.
That said, there are only one-note characters left to Merchant (socially awkward), Squibb (endlessly avuncular), and Revolori (utterly guileless). While it’s a shame that there isn’t more for these gifted performers to do here, everyone plays their part well and the film does earn some points for not taking the path of least resistance.
On the other hand, Blitz also chomps enthusiastically into any and all low-hanging fruit while taking that high road. The wedding cake is quite obnoxiously placed where anybody can and probably will walk into it, and in a similar vein, there are a number of flat pratfall gags that come off as a bit desperate. It’s not a massively subversive film, by any means, but it’s not so unassuming as to ever be dull.
Table 19 is the kind of film that’s destined to get a better reception on Netflix, through randomly searching for a film starring one of its talented ensemble, than on a big screen, but it’s not without its charms. The happy couple eventually gets their say and the reconciliation of the lost table with the most important people in the room is right on schedule for a super-conventional dramedy, however endearing its cast may be.
Table 19 is in UK cinemas now.