“Table 19” has all the ingredients for a romantic comedy: a brokenhearted woman, a nightmare wedding and a charming stranger. The good news is that it works hard to subvert the expectations of the genre.
Sadly, it’s at the expense of storytelling fundamentals (not to mention inspired comedy).
Anna Kendrick plays the heartsick Eloise, who first appears while waffling over a wedding RSVP card. She initially checks “no,” then changes it to “yes,” setting the thing on fire before quickly putting out the blaze and then dropping the barbecued reply in the mail. She’s the bride’s oldest friend, but also the ex-girlfriend of the best man (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the bride’s brother.
These entanglements render Eloise persona non grata, landing her a seating assignment at table 19 amid a bunch of other castoffs. There’s a bumbling if earnest ex-con (Stephen Merchant) and a dorky teenager hoping to lose his virginity (Tony Revolori). There’s also the bride’s overbearing former nanny (June Squibb) and a bickering couple (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson). Each of these one-note characters has a separate story arc jammed into the plot.
Still, the movie remains focused mostly on Eloise, especially once she meets Huck (Thomas Cocquerel), who in most romantic comedies would be her ticket to a happy ending. To its credit, “Table 19” keeps the audience guessing about that outcome. The story takes a couple of sharp turns, ultimately revealing that it isn’t a romantic comedy after all, but a shambling drama with a few mildly amusing pratfalls.
Because, at 87 minutes, heavy exposition does the work of character development. We hear time and again, for example, that Eloise is the kind of person who “takes things too far,” but there’s never any clear evidence of that. In the meantime, the movie races through each of its stories, careening toward tidy endings with all the grace of a car trying to make it though the intersection before the light turns red.
The whole thing feels like a mess — shocking considering that the movie was written by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, the filmmaking duo whose résumé includes their indie breakout “The Puffy Chair” and the upcoming HBO series “Room 104.” Director Jeffrey Blitz, for his part, is a writer, director and producer of the sneakily hilarious Comedy Central show “Review.”
“Table 19” does have a few bright spots: One is Merchant, as the gangly, hollow-eyed sad sack who fails to convince his tablemates that he’s a normal, contributing member of society. (He’s on probation, residing in a halfway house.) The movie’s most memorable bit of physical comedy — following some pretty run-of-the-mill clumsiness — is seeing Merchant’s character wander around in women’s clothes after a cake mishap, completely oblivious to his own ridiculousness.
It’s clear that the actor, like the rest of the cast, has more talent than “Table 19” knows what to do with. Considering all the movie’s many flaws, that might be the most egregious.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity. 87 minutes.