I know. They hate the term. But it is impossible to talk about Mark and Jay Duplass (as writers, anyway, aside from their work as actors, directors, and producers) without the dreaded term “mumblecore,” which was applied to their early microbudget work because of the improvisational, shaggy-dog, millennial-ness of their work. Traces of that remain in “Table 19,” cross-bred with a more conventional romantic comedy, and it turns out to be a welcome blend of sweet and sour. This is not the usual Jennifer/Jessica with a quippy best friend, a meet cute, and a makeover.
We’ve all seen that placecard and most of us have been seated by it: the table for leftover wedding guests who aren’t the family or close friends of either bride or groom but somehow had to be included. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) provides the fellow denizens of the dreaded Table 19 with the inside scoop. Back just a few months earlier, when she and the bride, her oldest friend, were planning everything together, Table 19 was for the people who did not fit in anywhere else, the people who had to be invited but who the hosts were hoping would not make it, still sending a gift from the registry.
The characters may be third-tier in the minds of their hosts, but they are played by top tier comic talent. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson play a married couple who have fallen into a marital death spiral of bickering that makes them miserable and humiliated, but they cannot seem to find their way out of it. Stephen Merchant is a cousin of the groom who seems unfamiliar with social interactions of any kind. “The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” Tony Revolori is a teenager with raging hormones but no idea of how to talk to girls. June Squibb plays the bride’s first nanny.
And then there is Eloise, once a maid of honor and dating the bride’s brother/best man (Wyatt Russell), but, since they broke up two months earlier, stuck at Table 19, on the other side of the ballroom, near the restrooms. We know she almost didn’t come; she even started to burn the invitation. But for some reason, she was determined to be there, and there she is, on the wedding table island of misfit toys. A mysterious and handsome man appears and he has an English accent and a way with an aphorism. Could he be her Prince Charming?
Very able performers make up for some story shortcomings, including a too-neat resolution that I’m guessing was recut after test screenings. Kendrick is as always a marvel of precision, heart, and comic timing, so every time things start to go off kilter, we know she will get us safely home.
Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and comic mayhem, brief comic nudity, drinking and tipsiness, marijuana, and sexual references including adultery and pregnancy.
Family discussion: Why did Eloise go to the wedding? How did sitting at Table 19 make it possible for her to acknowledge her feelings? What’s your funniest family gathering experience?
If you like this, try: “Rocket Science” with the same director and star