“I can smell the toilets from here, that’s how well we know the bride and groom.” – Jerry Kepp
No, this isn’t the most well known film of all, but it’s certainly one that I’d been wanting to watch for a very long while. In my endless mission to watch as many films as possible, it’s always nice to thin down the ever-growing movie watchlist. On Letterboxd I’ve got just under six hundred films that I’m wanting to watch. That doesn’t take in the hundreds more on my Netflix and Amazon Prime watchlist either. That’s my only reason for watching Table 19. Still, optimistic as ever, I entered the film with a neutral stance, aside from my hatred of weddings.
I’ve always found comedy movies difficult to review. All you can really base a comedy movie on is whether or not you personally found it funny. In this instance, I really didn’t find it funny. At all. There was not a single aspect of this movie that made me laugh. With the very first gag, I knew right then and there that this film simply wasn’t for me. But it’s not that it was a bad gag, it would’ve been great if executed correctly. Burning the invite to the wedding and then putting it out would have been a much larger joke in a slow burning film, rather than just a quick sight gag. It’s a shame really, especially considering it’s one of the only decent parts to the film.
Maybe I went into this film expecting a little too much. That seems to be a problem I have these days, I expect too much from smaller films. June Squibb, who at the time of writing these notes I had watched in both Nebraska (2013) and About Schmidt (2002), wasn’t anything special. I was expecting a superb supporting performance from her given the work she provided in the two aforementioned films. Still, sometimes a film just doesn’t click right with its cast, and when that happens it’s a complete disaster. Where the cast may clash with the movie, the cast themselves do have some great chemistry with each other in the opening half of the film.
For such a talented cast, they never really bring any of that talent onto the screen. Tony Revolori, an actor I had such high hopes for, has retired himself to films such as this and Take the 10 (2017). It’s a genuine shame to see high quality actors like June Squibb and Stephen Merchant given such awfully poor scripts like this. Still, I suppose it pays the bills. One of the few strengths to the film is that it has such a strong cast. But a cast alone can’t save a project that’s already been doomed to failure.
It’s odd seeing comedic powerhouses such as Lisa Kudrow and Stephen Merchant fail so terribly at trying to be funny. It’s not as if the roles are wrong for them either, they’ve been typecast as best you could imagine. Still, typecasting isn’t bad if it’s done right, and in this instance it’s actually very difficult to argue with the roles they’re given. But again, it’s only the chemistry of the cast keeping the movie afloat. Nothing in regard to the direction, soundtrack or cinematography is even worth mentioning because of how very bland it is.
Regardless of direction and all the very niche parts of film I enjoy, the jokes are the core of the movie. There’s a recurring gag where it turns out Kudrow’s character is wearing an identical outfit to the waitress. It’s not the highest brow of humour, and it’s a nice little joke if used once. But to have it continue over and over turns it from humour into obnoxious pandering. Small budget films such as this often play up the comedic value to focus on something else, in this instance Table 19 clearly wants to be a drama more than a comedy. Throwing twist after turn throughout the entire movie is really the only way the film goes about doing so. It becomes difficult to connect with the characters when you realise the film is going to do nothing but thrown inane drama at you for no apparent reason.
Director Jeffrey Blitz manages to capture the awkward nature of sitting with strangers at a wedding rather well. In particular, the chemistry between Squibb and Revolori was one of the best parts of the film, however short lived it may have been. Merchant as always is hilarious on his own by his appearance alone. That’s not an insult, I just mean his gangly height provides the obvious sight gag, followed by a genuinely weird performance which hammers home that cringe comedy he’s become so well known for.
What confuses me the most is that, although the chemistry of the cast is the highlighting point, the cast are split up about half an hour in. They do eventually reunite, but it’s not as if they’re working towards one common goal. It’s very difficult to connect with characters when they’re not given enough screen time and not interesting in the slightest. For whatever reason, they make a big deal about these group of strangers falling out and leaving the table one by one. It has no real emotive impact though, considering we’ve only known these characters for twenty minutes. For me, it felt like the film just assumed we’d be connected to these characters for no real reason.
See, when you assemble such a strong cast you expect great things. Maybe that’s where the overexpectations from me have come from. Going into this film expecting more than could have possibly been delivered. Although the chemistry between the characters was humorous at times, that is soon diluted into another dull fiasco. Films like Table 19 have to rely heavily on the writing to provide an interesting and engaging performance. The plot can’t do that considering there really isn’t a plot once you think about it.
You can’t have a comedy movie with an uplifting tone have a sad ending. That’s one of my biggest problems, it leaves a dark mark on the movie that you simply can’t get over. It’s like A Bigger Splash (2015) all over again. One small mistake and the movie is entirely ruined for me. That’s not to say Table 19 wasn’t ruined after the five minute mark though. Full of wedding cliche and happy endings wrapped in life lessons. It’s everything I try to avoid in a film, yet somehow so much worse because of the lacking potential for this to be anything other than a catastrophe.