Non-rom-com fans shouldn’t RSVP to ‘Table 19’

"Table 19" | Fox Searchlight Grade: C+
Fox Searchlight/Courtesy
"Table 19" | Fox Searchlight
Grade: C+

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If the highest-numbered table at the wedding reception, composed of the least important people there, were to disappear, would anyone notice? “Table 19” takes that question and subverts it: if that table disappeared, what would its non-VIPs do together?

At table 19 sits married couple Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), awkward high-school junior Rezno Eckberg (Tony Revolori, of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), even more awkward ex-con Walter Thimple (Stephen Merchant) and the bride’s former nanny Jo Flanagan (June Squibb). Its centerpiece is Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick), the former maid of honor demoted post-breakup with the bride’s brother. Eloise uses her newfound seat at the least important table to inform the rest of exactly how they received invitations — be it out of obligation, divorce politics or pity. They’re “the table that should have known to send regrets, but not before sending something nice off the registry,” she explains.

Though initially strangers, the emergence of a key detail from Eloise’s breakup springs the group into action. Jerry takes charge as the table, a newly formed unit, and goes to confront Teddy the ex (Wyatt Russell). What ensues is a ruined wedding cake, shared dope and relationships made between the six table occupants to last a lifetime … or something like that. With constant, out-of-place scenes that verge on the melodramatic and are uncomfortable at best, the film appears either unwilling or uncertain of how to fit itself into a single cinematic genre.

Though its scenes of melodrama, immediately followed by half-attempted comedic relief, appear to mark the film as a romantic comedy, the romantic aspects of the film are confusing, to say the least. The audience is left wondering until the very end if they are meant to root for Eloise and her dim-witted ex-beau to reunite or for them to move on. Teddy and Eloise are neither romantic nor comedic as a pair, even in Eloise’s confrontation of Teddy for his break-up method, one of the movie’s few, genuinely funny lines: “After two years, you break up with me over text? ‘Good luck with your future endeavors?’ ”

The confusion is furthered by Eloise’s brief moments with wedding-goer Huck (Thomas Cocquerel), a Chris Hemsworth look-a-like she uses to make Teddy jealous, yet with whom she has near-palpable chemistry. When Eloise and Huck sway on the dance floor with Teddy purposefully in sight, Huck stops her. “This isn’t real dancing,” he announces before twirling Eloise across the floor. The camera tightens on their faces as their eyes lock, the music changes tempo and the fairy lights in the hotel ballroom become hazy — enough to make a heart melt.

Nevertheless, the film fails to truly flesh out either romantic option: While Eloise is obviously the main character, the film insists that it possesses an ensemble cast. This is, however, to the audience’s benefit; the other wedding-goers of table 19 are far more interesting and charming than either of Eloise’s love interests. The funniest by far of which is Merchant, who towers above his cast members at 6 feet, 7 inches. His character, Walter, is best embodied by the scene in which he runs down the hotel’s hallway, pushing a wedding cake cart as his unnervingly wild eyes and unsettling smile both widen. He provides most of the film’s actual laughs as he struggles to hide his status as an ex-con — a struggle painfully characterized by answers to the question, “what do you do?” in increasingly unbelievable claims of his life as a “successful businessman.”

Heartwarming and happy, but not too predictable, “Table 19” draws its center from the collective chemistry of its main cast. Toward the end, the group has its own dance sequence with a brief tribute to “The Breakfast Club,” a film to which the movie has already oft been compared. With the cast’s widely varying characteristics and its soundtrack of 80’s hits, the influence of the John Hughes classic is undeniable, even though its mold wasn’t enough to shape “Table 19” into a memorable film.

That is to say, it’s a rom-com; you’ll be into it if that’s your kind of thing.

“Table 19” is currently playing at Shattuck Cinemas.

Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].

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