Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Reserved Seating: Table 19

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Table 19...gotta be seen?

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. Table 19 is the new comedy from director Jeffrey Blitz and screenwriters Jay & Mark Duplass. It’s the story of that misfit table at every wedding, the one full of people you invite because you have to, not because you want to. In this case, it’s nanny of the bride Jo (June Squibb), work acquaintances Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), weird cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), a kid named Renzo whose connection I sincerely cannot remember (Tony Revolori), and Eloise (Anna Kendrick, love of my life), oldest friend of the bride and recently-dumped ex-girlfriend of the best man. Over the course of the wedding reception, they’ll confront personal demons and search for a way to cope with them together.

Adam: In this clip, Anna Kendrick has an argument with her ex (Wyatt Russell), who happens to be the bride’s brother and also the best man. This scene is a pretty good representation of the movie overall. It’s small in scale (the film takes place entirely on the grounds of one hotel resort) and alternates between some decent writing and performances to some truly twee and obnoxious moments that the overqualified cast cannot overcome.

Table 19 was an unusual experience. It’s a movie I grew annoyed with and was ready to give up on several times but then it would have a laugh or a decent moment and I was willing to give it a little more leeway.

Rob: JB has that adage about knowing a movie is bad if (I’m paraphrasing) you’d prefer watching the cast have lunch together to watching the movie.

Adam: That was Gene Siskel. Continue.

Rob: That’s Table 19, a movie in which (as you said) a massively-overqualified cast literally sits in a circle for most of the running time. It was so awkward and disjointed that I had a hard time following who meant what to whom, when, and where. Everyone is trying, for sure, but the story goes out of its way to resist having a central premise to such an extent that it’s all just really uncomfortable. I’d watch any one of these characters if they were used effectively in their own story, but the film just never found a way to make them mesh.

Adam: It’s almost easier to review this movie based on the characters. Kendrick stood out in a way I didn’t expect. It’s like she’s “Table 19” for a day and the rest of the characters are “Table 19” in their bones. They made me very uncomfortable. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson should get an award for milking every last ounce of something out of nothing. Stephen Merchant had one funny moment (the running joke of him trying to help the wait staff). June Squibb was at times endearing and at times aggravating because her performance was to be such a bird lady. I don’t know what that Tony Revolori performance/character was supposed to be.
Kendrick is good, but we’ve seen her do this a few times now and I thought Wyatt Russell was lousy. I didn’t get why he seemed functional at the beginning but then there’s a revelation that he’s more stupid than mean and then changes gears and begins performing the character like he’s mentally disadvantaged. The movie provides a collection of characters I didn’t want to be around. Do you ever think this thought while watching a bad movie? They could make a movie about anything; why did they choose these people and this story? I didn’t have an answer for that at the end of Table 19. When, near the end, Table 19 gets to the dance floor to wedding it up the Table 19 way, I thought to myself “These people are losers. This night won’t change that. What is the point watching them go from A to B? No catharsis they get tonight will help them in life.” I know that sounds harsh, but the experience of Table 19 felt like someone inviting you over to their dirty home while they get flustered because they have nothing to feed you.

Rob: I’m just going to sit here quietly because that was beautiful and I couldn’t agree more. This movie was so frustrating. It has this idea about what it is, but it never sells us on it. It never lets us know what it wants us to think about these people or what they really think about each other.

Adam: Yes, exactly. They’re like prisoners in the cages of their own shtick. There’s no interaction.

Rob: Ensembles have to work together, and this movie risked something in having the entire ensemble be the Outcast Weirdo, but it never really found the balance between them. It’s a great idea that just did not work at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie get in its own way so consistently. I felt so bad for everyone involved.

Adam: Was there anything in the movie that you liked? I appreciated that it subverted some clich├ęs (the hunky dreamboat Australian guy, for example) but once it becomes obvious that it was introducing those things just to subvert them it got a little disingenuous. The other problem is the hunky Australian guy is way more appealing to spend your time with than the collection of sad sacks at Table 19. I laughed a couple of times like when the mom from Freaks & Geeks sang an increasingly angrier and angrier version of “My Way” or when the wedding guest made the Romeo & Juliet reference in his toast but it wasn’t enough for me to get this movie to a recommendation. Mark Off for me on Table 19.

Rob: It’s Mark Off for me, as well. I guess I liked that everyone committed to their bits despite the overall outcome. I liked Kudrow and Robinson in the moments they were given. I loved that Stephen Merchant was waiting patiently for his opportunities and not getting in anyone else’s way. And as for my girl Anna, I have to agree with you. She’s given one role and she plays it. I hate it, but it’s all there is. I just have to hold out hope that someone will give her the chance to be more than the awkward, muttering girl with too much self-awareness. It’s funny because there were those occasional shots of them walking together in slow motion, and I kept thinking, “This would be badass if I cared about any of these people. I want to root for them and see them work out their shit.” But there wasn’t anything there. I couldn’t be there for them. I failed the movie, and the movie failed me.
Adam: Table 19 comes from Fox Searchlight, a studio I (with some exceptions) often dislike because they are as much of a brand as Marvel and make way too many unchallenging Urban Outfitters/Whole Foods/Acoustic Guitar indies. What are your favorite movies from the studio or any least favorites?

Rob: Skimming through their catalog, I’ll list a few I like: Stoker, Black Swan, (500) Days of Summer, Juno, 28 Days Later, etc. I’ll agree that it’s mostly unchallenging white people bullshit. Wait, The Full Monty, I think. I haven’t seen it in maybe a decade. There’s a bunch in there I haven’t gotten around to, but I agree that they definitely take the safe approach to “indie” filmmaking. Mini-majors are such a mixed bag. You?

Adam: I can’t look at their filmography without negative physical side effects, so I’ll just say even though I don’t hate all of them; I just kind of hate all of them. A movie has a better chance of me liking it if I don’t register that it’s from Fox Searchlight. For example, I really liked last year’s Jackie but it doesn’t seem like a Fox Searchlight movie to me so unless I dig, I wouldn’t ever know.

Adam: What are we reviewing next week, Rob?

Rob: Nothing.

Adam: Sally, really? Nothing?

(Sally looks away with disgust.)

Rob: Oh, that’s right. Sally told me. It’s a special edition of Reserved Seating where we interview each other and get to know what makes the other tick. Outside of the movies that is.

Adam: Do I have to show up for this?

Rob: If you want that check, you do.

Adam: You had me at “getting paid.” Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

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