by Matt Weiner
If you sit a group of strangers together at a wedding reception, you’ll find out that each one of them is a brain… a basket case… a criminal… and of course a perky princess to propel the story forward.
Yes, the romantic comedy Table 19 gets its something (heavily) borrowed from John Hughes, especially The Breakfast Club. After an unceremonious breakup with the bride’s brother, now ex-maid of honor Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) gets banished to the table of rejects and outcasts at the reception.
Eloise, still pining for her Teddy (Wyatt Russell), is unsympathetic to the quirks and sad stories that bind their table together. But as backstories get revealed, the tablemates quickly learn they are united in their profound misery.
If this sounds a little bleak for a brisk (like, 87 minutes brisk) romcom, just wait until the themes take a sharp turn from cake-related slapstick to everyone’s favorite comedy subjects like unplanned pregnancy, infidelity and death.
The story, written by director Jeffrey Blitz with indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, gets into dark territory, in particular the cautionary tale of Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson). The married couple don’t even care enough to hate each other anymore, and their apathy is like a jarring memento mori for a lighthearted wedding romp.
So many of the casual asides and throwaway lines are streaked with this sort of misanthropy, and it’s a shame that the movie lacks the audacity to see it through to the finish. It doesn’t help that the comedy part of the romantic comedy is light on laughs—with the exception of Stephen Merchant, who commits above and beyond to finding both humor and pathos in his thinly sketched character, cousin Walter.
Instead, we’re left with lessons learned and lukewarm nostalgia, complete with 80s covers from the wedding band. Sure, you could just stick with the original article and fire up a John Hughes marathon. But if your tolerance for formula is already that high, and you like watching a great cast make the most of an inconsistent premise—and you have 80-odd minutes to spare—you could slog through a lot worse. Like an actual wedding.