For those unaware, Jay and Mark Duplass are something of champions of the indie comedy scene. The likes of Cyrus, Baghead, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and their recent HBO series Togetherness have shown their talent as writers who see the grim humor of modern day banality after you turn 30. It’s awkward, but something that feels real and relatable. Like all good writers, there’s an x-factor to their stories that give them an extra punch to make their odd sense of humor feel complete and meaningful.
Sadly that x-factor did not get the invite to Table 19. Written by the Duplass brothers and directed by Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science, Spellbound), the film’s title is the last table listed at a wedding, one referred to as the “table that could disappear in the middle of the wedding and no one would even notice.” That quip comes from Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the ex-girlfriend of the brother of the bride who was also one of the bride’s best friends. She’s joined by romantically-awkward Renzo (Tony Revolori), sketchy skinny man Walter (Stephen Merchant), super-polite former nanny Jo (June Squibb), the inquisitive diner owner Jerry (Craig Robinson) and his wife (Lisa Kudrow). The group all come with their own personal baggage and try to deal with it amidst the celebration of love.
What Table 19’s quality boils down to is the story and the comedy, both seemingly unfinished in the film. Not only does the premise of the movie seem routine and unoriginal, but the jokes are either half-assed or predictable. It’s amazing how the Duplass brothers think that pratfalls are appropriate in a comedy as “realistic” and occasionally dark as Table 19, but they’re seemingly as essential element to the film’s laughs. On top of that are easy jokes like Renzo’s nerdy awkwardness (his mother’s overbearing, haha), Walter’s British twee and lizard-like face (look at those glasses and that smile, lolz), and Jo’s granny demeanor (look at that pink dress and wig, LAUGH DAMMIT). And then comes the shocking reality twist of the film (because that makes it real, man) which lands with such a confusing thud that it’s actually one of the funniest parts of the movie. The script feels like something the Duplass brothers kicked around for a while but never had the motivation to finish, and the film itself is shot without the slightest bit of interest in the characters. It wraps up so neatly with 80s synth pop and indie rock playing in the background, it’s as if Lifetime tried making something for early-2000s Sundance.
The biggest shame about the film is its waste of an ace cast. Kendrick is bringing some real dramatic chops to the role, and she seems to want this to be an R-rated movie (it’s actually PG-13 for some reason) to really cut loose. Same goes for Robinson and Kudrow, two of comedy’s finest secret weapons for decades who have some chemistry but don’t get to really stretch their legs with their characters. Kudrow seems to carry most of the emotion between the two while Robinson is left mostly to his clever snark, adding up to another bit of a wasted plot line. Squibb maybe gets the best of the supporting character arcs, but mostly because she’s June Squibb and could spin gold out of the fake streamers at the wedding reception. But poor poor Merchant and Revolori, two ace comic talents in their own rights shoved into nerdy stereotypes.
Table 19 had potential to be something heartfelt about the losers in love that connect in their own weird ways, and the Duplass brothers would be the writing team to bring that to life. Problem is, that x-factor is missing, the glue that would hold the comedy and the reality together in the film and make it something from the heart instead of from the confused head. It’s nothing intolerable to sit through, more like background noise you can put on in the background to show your partner how “in touch” you are with real feelings. Otherwise, don’t feel bad about regretfully declining.
Table 19 is now playing in theaters.