Trying to position itself as the Revenge of the Nerds for unwanted wedding guests, Table 19 is often as tame and forgettable as the characters it wants us to root for. What's unfortunate is that there's quite a bit of potential in the premise, which could have had hints of Wedding Crashers if played the right way. Just look at the talented ensemble on hand: the always likable Anna Kendrick, the welcome presence of June Squibb (as a weed smoking granny!), The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, and scene-stealer Stephen Merchant. Did I mention it hails from Mark and Jay Duplass, who do these small-scale indie comedies better than just about anybody? How could it go wrong?
Easy. At every predictable turn, Table 19 and its superstar cast feels like an arranged marriage of convenience. And sadly it all starts with Kendrick, who has a knack for finding badly manufactured comedy roles that underserve her skills. She's good for three or four really awful comedies a year to go along with the one or two good ones she agrees to. Table 19 falls on the lousy end of the scale, as she plays Eloise, who was meant to be the maid of honor at her oldest friend's wedding until the best man, the bride's brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell, looking more like his old man Kurt by the day), dumped her. Through much trial, tribulation, and flamethrowing, Eloise decides to RSVP to the wedding anyway and is shocked to find out she's been sat at Table 19, which might as well be in another galaxy.
At the table she meets others confined to the event's nether-regions. Unfortunately, every one of them is so poorly sketched it's like they were extras on a sitcom pilot. Revolori is the awkward horny kid hoping to get laid; Squibb is the bride's forgotten first nanny; Merchant is a social creep and a convict pretending to be a businessman; Robinson and Kudrow are a miserable married couple who own a diner. None of these people make sense together, and their lack of chemistry makes sense in the beginning although it doesn't excuse how unfunny their interactions are. Mostly, the early encounters revolve around Eloise and how pissed she is over being stuck at the outcast table. Somehow it endears her to the others, but it certainly doesn't endear her to us.
There's a desperate attempt to make us care for her later as we learn Eloise's true reasons for attending, a revelation that raises the stakes entirely but also feels sorta cheap. The whole movie is full of little reveals about why each character has decided to come where they so clearly are not wanted, but we're never given any reason to care. There is one exception, though, and that's Merchant whose gangly clumsiness works wonders as Walter Thimble. He's the best sight gag this film could have asked for. He never looks like he's in the right place, he's constantly changing his outfit, he's stealing cakes, and generally just making things weird wherever he goes. He encapsulates the spirited strangeness that Table 19 should have been, but instead it aims for poignancy rather than comedy and finds neither. The pairing of Robinson and Kudrow is at least interesting because they're such an unexpected duo, but their characters are shallow, mean, and we could care less about the forced adultery subplot they get embroiled in.
A faint flicker of hope emerges late as this band of outsiders begins to rebel against their status, forming their own little Breakfast Club of losers. At this point director Jeffrey Blitz, who had the award-winning documentary Spellbound and gave Anna Kendrick her breakout role in Rocket Science, allows his actors the improvisational freedom they had sorely been missing. But too much of Table 19 is missing any spark of spontaneity and excitement. Turns out wedding comedies need them as much as marriages do.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5