Screenwriters Jay and Mark Duplass more or less established the mumblecore genre, known for its rambling, naturalistic dialogue punctuated with sly jokes. “Table 19” is familiar territory, but also not. It’s got more emotional resonance than we’re used to seeing from these movies, though plenty of laughs, too.
Anna Kendrick is first-among-equals as Eloise, one of six guests at the titular table of losers at the wedding of her oldest friend. El was actually the bridesmaid and helped plan the wedding, so her voice has authority when she tells the other guests how each table was organized: the grandparents, the cousins, eligible singles, shaky singles, the kids’ table, etc.
The literal last, table 19, consists of people who should’ve known to check “declines with regrets” rather than attend, El says. They’re the back of the room, shunted off and forgotten. El herself has self-demoted because she used to date Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the bride’s brother and also the best man. They just broke up a couple of months ago, and it’s obvious to all that El has come because she’s looking to have it out with him.
It’s essentially one long freewheeling conversation, that starts out with the table-mates denying that they’ve been assigned to the worst table, then sussing out why they got disrespected, and finally moving on to more substantial exploration.
I’m not giving anything away by revealing that halfway through the movie, they decamp en masse. More than anything it reminded me of “The Breakfast Club,” where hijinks give way to somber, probing moments.
It’s definitely a motley crew. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are Bina and Jerry Kepp, a long-married couple who own a diner in Columbus, Ohio. Either the bride or groom’s family (I forget) is also in the business, so the invitation seems like more a courtesy than a call to come. She wanted to attend, he didn’t, so it’s already tense between them. Their marriage has reached the point where they’re more snarky best friends than lovers.
One of the things they like to do is argue a bit, then flip each other off simultaneously after turning their backs. When that’s your “cute thing,” you know you’re in trouble.
Tony Revolori plays Renzo, a nervous high school kid here to represent his family, which also has business ties. Renzo is a desperate virgin who’s hoping a wedding is a great way to change that. Interestingly, his (heard-not-seen) mother is actually the one pushing him to do this. She tells him his manhood — not the concept; his actual parts — is a gift from God, and the wedding holds better odds for him scoring than the junior prom, which is the same weekend.
Like all teens Renzo is fervently annoyed by his mother, without realizing she’s actually the best mom in the world.
Stephen Merchant is Walter, cousin to the bride. Very tall and very shy, Walter likes to disappear into the background drapes and avoid conversations. You’ll find out why.
One running gag is about Bina’s maroon coat, which matches those of the servers at the wedding. Bina is continually annoyed when they mistake her for one of them, so she gives it to Walter. It tells you everything you need to know about him that when a worker instructs him to go bring drinks to table or whatnot, Walter doesn’t object but tranquilly shambles off to comply.
Nanny Jo (June Squibb) — everyone calls her that, even though she’s retired — was the first caretaker to the bride’s family. Jo is operating under the delusion that she’s a beloved figure invited to watch her former charges become full-fledged adults, but really they hardly remember her. She’s plucky, plainspoken and has that strange sort of maternal strength that some childless women gain over the years.
Where things go, I won’t tell you, though you can probably guess. El and Teddy have their face-off, and we learn more about them that we’d guess. Kendrick’s a master at showing us normal women with strains of grace and neuroticism they struggle to conceal. I also really liked Russell, who acts like a cad but maybe has reason to. He was also a soulful presence in the great, virtually unseen “Everybody Wants Some!!”
There’s a fun departure with a dreamy fellow played by Thomas Cocquere, who sidles up to El at the start of the wedding and starts tossing off witticisms and flirtations. She later enlists him for a scorching dance together to make Teddy jealous. We think we know where this is going, though maybe that his name is Huck provides a cautionary note.
As multiple people point out, no one is named Huck anymore.
Under the direction of Jeffrey Blitz, whose background is mostly in television, “Table 19” is a fun and smart little film celebrating the screw-ups and the outcasts. The thing is, everybody screws up and everybody gets cast out, at least at some point in their life, though some of us maybe more than others.