Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
Pictured: (From left) Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, June Squibb, and Tony Revolori in "Table 19."
Warning: This story contains spoilers for Table 19, read at your own risk.
I am a sucker for a great wedding. Consequently, I am a sucker for a great wedding film. Hell, I’ll even revisit episodes of my favorite television shows just for the weddings. When my editor sounded the call for someone to cover the film Table 19, she assumed a hate-watch was on order. But I volunteered as tribute because I actually adore all things matrimonial. I love weddings and — surprise! — I loved the film, treacly wedding cake romance and all.
Nuptials, both IRL and on screen, tend to have a bad reputation. Out here in the real world, they’re often seen as nuisances on social calendars. In film, they’ve been used a few too many times as trite vehicles for romance and comedy, but Table 19 reminds us that, hey, there’s still a lot to be said for a wedding movie.
As its title suggests, the movie’s nucleus is table 19, the proverbial “rejects” table at any wedding. (It is suggested in this movie that the people at this table are the unfortunate souls who were expected to send their regrets.) They’re a Breakfast Club-style assortment, meant to be at odds with each other but fortunately, they are not.
Anna Kendrick leads the crew as Eloise McGarry, the former best friend of the bride. She’s recovering from an unceremonious dumping courtesy of the best man, Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson, simultaneously miscast and perfectly suited for their roles), a couple who own a diner, also sit at the table; along with Jo Flanagan (June Squib), a nanny; Renzo (Tony Revolori), a teenager; and Walter (Stephen Merchant), who happens to be on probation. As formula dictates, they’re a ragtag crew, but the Duplass brothers, who wrote the screenplay, have a dedication to verisimilitude that’s ultimately satisfying.
In fact, most aspects of the film are predictable, but that doesn’t make it a stinker. Seeing as Table 19 takes place at a wedding, we run into the usual suspects (just as you might run at an IRL wedding). Somewhere in there, a guest smashes a wedding cake. Another is mistaken for a cater waiter. The best man gives an awkward toast. A dapper fellow in a tuxedo sweeps Eloise off her feet.
But in Table 19, the smashed cake incites a thrilling cake heist, orchestrated by Walter (who, if you’ll recall, was just released from prison). Bina’s tragic outfit choice, which makes her look like a cater waiter, is a plaintive metaphor for how her husband sees her. The best man is also the worst man — he dumped Eloise, remember? — and that dashing stranger who woos Eloise isn’t to be trusted. (Two of my fellow moviegoes, when exiting the theater, exclaimed, “I knew that hot guy wasn’t trustworthy.”)
You know what else is predictable? Long-term relationships. As I see it, the trouble with most romantic comedies is that they trade in the novelty of fresh love.
It’s almost as if the Duplass brothers are asking us to revisit the wedding feature. Because weddings are predictable, yes. Romantic comedies are predictable, yes. (At least, that’s what I hear from my more cynical friends, who bemoan the average endings of lovely films.) But you know what else is predictable? Long-term relationships. As I see it, the trouble with most romantic comedies is that they trade in the novelty of fresh love. And when they’re not goading you with misty-eyed montages or beachside swooning, the movies often feature an elderly, naturally adorable couple holding hands, as an embodiment of “happily ever after.” (The chief offenders: Up, a great movie, and The Notebook, a decent one.)
But the central pair in Table 19 isn’t the soon-to-be-married duo, giggling with excitement about the nuptials. It’s Eloise and Teddy, the best man. The couple, scrappy and young, is dealing with — spoiler alert — a pregnancy. They aren’t Eskimo kissing in traffic, embroiled in the joy of new love. The film also gives us another fraught pair in Bina and Jerry, who begin the film sitting across a diner table, munching on fries. They’ve been together for years, and their resentment is obvious and uncomfortable. This is the couple that deserves a romantic comedy. For the characters in the film, the wedding retraces the familiar steps of idyllic love, and that’s exactly what they need. Bina and Jerry, traipsing in the woods near the wedding, run into their former selves, and Teddy and Eloise start reciting the apologies they owe each other.
Renzo, Jo, and Walter, who make up the remaining population of table 19, aren’t here for romance, but they do achieve a sort of redemption. Renzo, a high schooler, just wants to be kissed — his mother is in on this plan — and his foibles are predictably hilarious. That doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable! (Hey, Renzo, we all feel you. High school is lame.)
The Duplass brothers, who produced the excellent series Togetherness on HBO, have always had a knack for spiffing up the mundane. Togetherness, as well as their understated movie Jeff, Who Lives at Home, lend a voice to the banal aspects of life — you know, the ones you’d rather not always see on screen. With Table 19, the brothers drag you to a wedding to repeat the same old stuff you’ve seen before. They ask, though, that you be patient. Pay attention, and the routine won’t be as stuffy as you thought, and may even lead to surprising insights.
There was a period of my life when I pretended to hate weddings. I’d groan and roll my eyes with the rest of the skeptics. Coupledom? A celebration? No, thank you. I’ve long since left that behind because, you know what? Wedding cake tastes too damn good and, routines — dare I say traditions — can sometimes bring you back to wonderful reality. Table 19 may reek of crusted fondant, but it’s worth a slice.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.