The title refers to the table way in the back at your standard wedding reception. The table of ragtag guests who, as Anna Kendrick’s character points out, were expected to RSVP “No” and send a gift anyway. Yeah, that table.
The occupants consist of a married couple (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), who share a loose connection to the bride’s father; the former nanny of the bride; an awkward teenager, Rezno; that cousin no one wants to acknowledge; and, finally, the ex-girlfriend of the best man, Eloise (Kendrick), who got dumped after the invitation had already been mailed out. She was also supposed to be the maid of honor. Her story is a bit of a stretch, but just go with it. (Kendrick reteams with her Rocket Science director Jeffery Blitz, and the story idea is by her previous collaborators Mark and Jay Duplass.)
If you’ve seen enough “strangers-thrown-together” films, then you can guess what’s going to happen to the six at table 19. Once Eloise explains to everyone they are seated at the table for “randos,” they all begin having their own existential meltdowns in front of these strangers they have been fated to sit next to, only to resolve that if they were invited for dubious reasons, that shouldn’t prevent them from having a good time. Over the course of the wedding reception, they get into such hijinks as destroying the wedding cake, getting stoned in a hotel room, and trying to get young Rezno laid.
The performances are all solid here. June Squibb is always a treat. Here she plays a character in her wheelhouse, an elderly woman seeking validation for her life as a nanny. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori has impeccable comic timing as the virginal Rezno, whose helicopter mom calls throughout the reception to check whether he’s met a girl yet. Kudrow plays Bina, an unsatisfied married woman who came to the wedding seemingly just to get her husband out of the house. Kudrow plays the emotionally frustrated woman very well, although not dialing it all the way up as she has for Don Roos in the past.
Craig Robinson plays her husband, Jerry, who suspects his wife RSVP’d because a former flame of hers may also be in attendance at the wedding. Robinson’s career is having a moment right now, coming off a great role in Morris from America, and it’s great to see him tackling more dramatic roles. Then there’s Stephen Merchant from the British version of The Office, playing the bride’s cousin who doesn’t seem to understand social cues and who has had to pay a steep price for his naiveté.
There are genuine laughs throughout, although none of these characters’ stories are all that interesting on their own. Is Jerry going to be able to save his and Bina’s marriage? Is the bride going to tell her former nanny how much she still means to her after all these years? Did the best man (Wyatt Russell) break up with Eloise over text message because he’s a big jerk, or is there more to him? These story arcs kind of flounder, but Table 19 works best when, instead of advancing plot, the six core cast members bounce off each other.
Lately there have been a plethora of films like Wedding Crashers and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, mash-ups of frat boy comedies and wedding films that throw in raunchy humor as a way to revitalize the stale wedding genre. What has always been contradictory is how these films try to celebrate both bachelorhood and marriage, essentially wanting to have their wedding cake and eat it, too.
I’ll take Table 19 over any of those because it gives a unique perspective on the genre. In this film, every time the wedding party is shown, it’s from an outsider perspective: the drunken, ineloquent speeches; the stiff dancing in formal clothing; the singles who treat it as a meat market. It’s fun to those who are actually in it, but it’s all crap when viewed from the periphery.