There’s a messiness and roundabout way of storytelling to Jeffrey Blitz’s Table 19. The structure of the movie, or rather lack of structure, takes what would otherwise be a typical entry in the rom-com genre and turns it into a quirky indie movie about strangers forming connections and lasting relationships at a wedding of people they barely know.
Well, that’s not entirely true, Eloise (Anna Kendrick) knows the bride, Francie (Rya Meyers) and Best Man. She’s a childhood friend of Francie’s, and she has recently been dumped by her brother and Best Man Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Their break up is the catalyst of the film.
Eloise shows up to the wedding only to discover she is no longer seated with the family and friends of the bride. She’s been reassigned to Table 19. The table Francie’s Mother calls “The table who could disappear in the middle of the wedding and no one would even notice.”
At the table is Francie’s first nanny Jo (June Squibb), the brother of an Uncle who happens to be an ex-con Walter (Stephen Merchant), a young boy whose Mother is a friend of the family Renzo (Tony Revolori) and a couple who co-own a diner Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and who know Francie’s father, sort of. Having told you all this, you could easily figure out the character arcs yourself.
If you’ve seen one romantic comedy set at a wedding you pretty know what’s going to happen at all the other romantic comedies set at weddings. There are rules that screenwriters must dutifully follow. Rules such as Chekhov’s cake: If you see a wedding cake in the first act it must be destroyed by the third.
Except for the screenwriters here are Jay and Mark Duplass. The Duplass brothers love naturalism and especially love finding ways to upend accepted cliches. Take the zigzag way they handle Teddy’s and Eloise’s on again off again relationship.
Clearly, the two love each other. It’s also clear they are both screw ups and are prone to grand gestures when little or no gesture would be appropriate. Surely there must be a better place to confront your ex about the problems of your relationship other than his sister’s wedding. Eloise is not entirely to blame either considering Teddy could have easily had her kicked out or at the very least kept away from her. But the two keep searching each other out.
The Duplass brothers and Jeffrey Blitz take what would be quirky indie cliches in any other movie and instead ground them by muting their eccentricities. Renzo in someone else’s hand would be some cartoonishly oversexed teenager whose ethnicity is part of the gag. Instead, he’s allowed to be just what he is. A shy teenager desperately trying to figure out how to get a girl to dance with him.
Walter, Francie’s uncle’s brother went to jail for embezzlement. Another movie would have him stalking the wedding ceremony on the prowl for his next score. Or at the very least have him trying to get at the money that he has hidden away somewhere. They wouldn’t have Walter be a sweet man who embezzled money for a friend of his whose wife was dying and needed an expensive operation. Nor would they have revealed that Walter’s friend had actually conned him. Despite all this Walter is a sweet, kind man who can hardly bare for anyone to feel bad.
Do you see what I’m getting at? These characters are messy. Their motivations and thoughts are murky. They say one thing before immediately doing the opposite. We squirm as Jerry and Bina argue like couples do. Dredging up old wounds to make new ones. They will end the movie stronger than they started but only because they have had several discussions. They don’t belabor the same point as much as they bring up several points. Jerry’s olive branch of love is just a simple act of intimacy.
When Jo, the nanny, reveals a secret about herself it’s done in a sort of matter of fact way. This is because Jo has had time to live with it. It’s not a revelation for her. After she reveals her secret, she doesn’t change how she acts. She just continues to behave as she always has. Only the way we view her changes.
What Blitz lacks in any visual style he makes up for in allowing the actors room to breathe. June Squibb is one of the great actors working today. She has the uncanny ability to deliver a line as if she wrote it herself. She never goes for the big moments. Instead, she opts for matter of fact tones such as when she reveals to the table Eloise is pregnant.
I enjoyed the way Blitz and the Duplass brothers allowed our loyalties to waver between Teddy and Eloise. We’re so used to characters being one thing throughout the movie. Teddy may appear to be a tactless socially inept fool but so does Eloise at times. He may not be a great father but then again who’s to say he won’t be a good one?
Table 19 is a weird beast of a movie. It’s being sold as a cute little romantic comedy but as you can see it’s not quite so simple. It doesn’t behave the way you think it does. It loops around having characters seemingly having the same conversation over and over again. Table 19 never feels repetitive, though. Instead, it feels like stubborn, obstinate idiots trying to get their point heard and understood.
Yes, Chekhov’s cake is faithfully followed but not in the way you think. The way the movie resolves the cake destruction while serving a bit of karmic justice is a sly little surprise. Yes, there is a grand romantic gesture, but it doesn’t happen when it should happen, and it’s offscreen. The baby’s name is predictable, but that’s okay; there are rules after all.