Ever been at a wedding and wondered how, exactly, the seemingly random folks stuck at a table in the corner – who aren’t talking to anyone else, let alone each other – know the bride and groom? Having been a guest or a hired performer at many weddings, watching Table 19 was like watching an NHL highlight reel of the best and worst action from my own experiences. The superstars shine, confident in their skill and successful in almost every attempt at scoring; the wingmen dart and dance to give the best assist to their teammates; and the goalies are fearless in shutting down whatever comes their way. Don’t even get me started on how good the band is (or isn’t, depending on the song).
The rest? Varying shades of utter failure, displaying disheartening ineptitude at their chosen tactic and getting embarrassed by the opposition, the epicenter and rubble-buried victims of which can be found at Table 19 of this wedding. Of course, we don’t know for sure how everyone at Table 19 came to be there, but we can certainly guess. Each guest has their own peculiar and weird story to tell, and writer/director Jeffrey Blitz makes sure to give everyone their proper due. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of characters to get lost in, which definitely makes the film’s 87 minutes shoot by like a rocket.
Of course, what makes this film tick is the camaraderie between the folks inhabiting Table 19. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the bride’s oldest friend, but she’s also the bride’s brother’s ex-girlfriend, which may (or may not) be the reason behind her dubious seating placement. Jo (June Squibb) is the stereotypical wedding guest at a table of strangers who tries to get everything kicked off with well-meaning social intentions, but winds up exposing more dirt than she should. At least the links between Eloise, Jo, and the bride are readily apparent, with Eloise recognizing Jo as the bride’s former nanny and also acknowledging there’s more to Jo’s invitation than as a former family friend.
Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina Kepp (Lisa Kudrow) are a bickering, diner-owning couple who seem to have spent more days in their restaurant than they have with each other, talking to each other with all the manner and tact of short-order cooks. Most awkward to watch is Renzo (Tony Revolori), a high school junior who fancies himself as a budding Lothario but lacks any social skill whatsoever, which can probably be credited to his overbearing mother (voiced by Margo Martindale) making every decision for him and giving him rather questionable advice. Rounding out the group is the stilted, gawky, and nervous Walter (Stephen Merchant), who tries excessively hard to blend in and be “normal,” but we’re introduced to him as being a the bottom-bunk roommate (literally) of a heavily-tattooed man who doesn’t seem to like wearing clothes a lot.
Disparate, yes? The first act of the movie is just that – an act on all of their parts. Shields are up, phasers are set to “kill”; no one wants to be the first to back down, especially Eloise. She’s the last to arrive at the table, but the first to pointedly let everyone know where they stand in the pecking order. Jo, wanting to just have a nice time, keeps telling her to stop before she hurts someone. Bina and Jeff are too busy bickering about their own relationship to notice they’re being dressed down. Ever the perpetual horny teen, Renzo’s just happy to be sitting next to Eloise and accepts her flippant dismissals. And Walter? Half the fun of the movie is watching Walter own a scene outright with whatever weirdness spills out of his mouth or what actions he undertakes just to go with the flow.
But throughout the film, each member of the table is discovered to be carrying and hiding their own sadness; slowly, they break through each other’s defenses to get to the root of why they’ve not only been seated at the “Randoms” table, but what’s affecting their lives so greatly that they feel they need to hide behind bluster and lies. It’s a wedding movie without the wedding, with an equal mix of dispirited myopia and curious optimism, never quite being fully either a drama or a comedy.
That it sits in a weird place is one of Table 19’s charms. It’s enjoyable to see a film that may or may not resolve itself in the way you want, all the while taking curious steps towards said resolution. For every moment which feels scripted – a fault found in certain actions characters take or scenes which are obviously meant for forced laughter – there are scenes which elevate the humanity of these folks and lend the film a genuineness of heart and soul. Table 19 isn’t merely a minefield of crushed hopes and dreams; those hopes and dreams are given a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s oddly amusing watching the guests at Table 19 make their own hesitant way there.