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It’s often hard to tell why a film doesn’t make you feel the way you thought it would. Sometimes it’s because the characters on screen feel like echoes of other fictional characters, and not like real human beings. Sometimes, in the midst of too much plot, a writer feels the need to throw in an ad-hoc attempt at emotional sincerity. And sometimes the pacing is off only ever so slightly, and you’re never allowed to feel before being pulled to something else. In Table 19‘s case, the problem is all three.
The premise is your standard “strangers thrust into an uncomfortable situation and must find comfort in each other.” At her ex-boyfriend’s sister’s wedding, Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is seated at the table closest to the toilets. Along with an unsatisfied married couple (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), the bride’s first nanny (June Squibb), a felon out on parole (Stephen Merchant) and a horny teenager just passed puberty (Tony Revolori), Eloise is forced to do her best to look like she is enjoying the celebrations.
Right off the bat, the film loses what could have been a beautiful emotional journey. In an attempt at comedy, writers Jeffrey Blitz, Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass have created characters that aren’t real. They have quick banter and funny one-liners but no one speaks like a normal person. Everyone acts like someone in a rom-com, and it’s difficult to get involved when you can’t relate to even one character in such a large cast.
Table 19 is also full of emotional deus ex machinas. Revelations of infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, and ambiguous romantic interests are thrown into the story with little preparation or thought. They’re ostensibly included to make the audience feel some type of way, but because of the lack of development (and the sheer number of revelations), none of the them really hit home.
Right off the bat, Table 19 loses what could have been a beautiful emotional journey
The constant upending of plot also causes the pacing to suffer. Table 19′s writers aren’t capable of juggling emotional arcs for so many characters, and the result is a group of unrounded characters who just manage to feel something before being pushed to the side for the next emotional rollercoaster.
The issue with poor writing is that it’s like a rot — few other jobs on a film can be done well if the writing isn’t up to scratch. And first to get hit are the performances. Table 19 is lucky in that it’s cast a group of inherently likable personalities. Anna Kendrick is always charming, and Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson bring with them a warm nostalgia for better shows. But none of them are given room to do what they do best, and the film suffers yet again.
Table 19 isn’t inherently bad. It has a fun premise, characters that could work, and some reveals that would have been great in the hands of other writers. But it just leaves you with the feeling that something’s missing. That there was emotion to be found in there somewhere, it just never made its way to you. The saddest part about Table 19 is that it makes you want to feel, but it never actually succeeds.
Verdict: Table 19 is cute, but it tries so hard to be poignant that it never gives any story line room to breathe before another emotional moment comes along. The movie is just medium enough that if you’re looking for something you can look away from on a first date, it’s not a bad choice. If you’re looking for emotion, you’re better off watching anything else members of this cast have been in.