Table 19

TABLE 19. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, June Squibb, Wyatt Russell, Francie Millner, Amanda Crew, Tony Revolori, and Stephen Merchant. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz. Rated M (Drug use). 87 min.

This American film tells the story of a group of people who are reluctant wedding guests.

Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) used to be the girlfriend of Teddy (Wyatt Russell), and was appointed maid of honour for the wedding of Teddy's sister (Francie Millner), her best friend. Teddy, as best man, dumped Eloise for another girl friend, Nikki (Amanda Crew), and Eloise is particularly upset that Nikki is the new maid-of-honour. Eloise has many misgivings, but eventually decides to go to the wedding, and finds herself seated at Table 19.

Table 19 is a corner table, close to the restroom, with six unhappy guests. It is labelled as the "randoms" table, where people who should have declined their invitation to attend, end up being sat together.Table 19 is not regarded by those present at the reception as "a table of honour".

The status of Table 19 starts to bond the table's occupants. Bina Kepp (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry Kepp (Craig Robinson) are an unhappily married cross-racial couple, who regularly trade insults with each other. They eventually reconcile, but have no idea why they have been invited. An elderly former, "bad" nanny of the bride's family, Jo (June Squibb) has a bag of "dope" hidden away in her handbag for shared consumption, and is ready to sweetly reveal a host of potentially embarrassing stories about the bride and her family which includes an over-sexed teenager (Tony Revolori). The occasion invites further trouble, when it comes to be known that the bride's cousin, Walter Thimple (Stephen Merchant), who also sits on Table 19, is on parole for criminal activity for large-scale fraud involving the father of the bride. Secrets are revealed in the ensuing conversations on Table 19, past attachments eventually manage to right themselves, and new friendships are formed.

There is an emerging trend in modern comedy-dramas to re-invent people by sitting them around a table, while their secrets leak out. The film, "Perfect Strangers" (2016), drew people together over a table for dinner, and revealed secrets that affected the lives of everyone present. Another recent film, "The Dinner" (2017), was about the personal struggle of two sets of parents who come to grips with a family crisis over a meal at a restaurant. The first was scripted brilliantly, but the scripting of this film is not up to its comedy demands. For a full length movie like this one, the scripting should have been sharp, satirical, and punchy, and it is not. The result is that the film is light-weight comedy with uneven charm. A random table of undesirable guests has the potential of providing great situational humour, but in this film the comic scenes are too variable and disjointed to take full advantage of the possibilities.

There is the expected proportion of crude jokes, life crises, surprising pregnancies, terminal illness, and unanticipated resolutions, but the central plot-line of a table full of undesirable misfits loses itself in the mix of it all. The different sub-plots make character development very difficult, and the movie becomes a film that searches for its comedy in situations that slip out of control.

The cast in this film involves a bunch of actors and actresses who deserve better direction, and an erratic script gives them limited chances to demonstrate their skills. The film moves from comedy to sentimental drama falteringly, and ends up being caught between the two genres to become an eccentric drama-comedy with a very mawkish heart.

Much of the movie offers a particularly pessimistic view of marriage, but Table 19 has too many unpleasant things happening to it, and around it, to make that much of a major problem.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Twentieth Century Fox

Released April 20, 2017

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