Sunday, 17 December 2017

Table 19 (2017)

Bought in Tesco for a fiver completely on a whim and based solely on the cast, I'd heard bugger all about Table 19 - and you really think that ought to have told me something. A quick look online after watching it tonight tells me of a production that no one seemed to have much faith in. Basically, it's been in development hell since 2009, with a 2011 rewrite from director Jeffrey Blitz pushing it slightly forward. Fast forward to 2105 and the film is made...only to sit on the shelf until this year, with a January release turning into a March one.

I can see why this has been messed around so much. Truth is, I don't think anyone knew what to make of it, or to do with it. The film will  get some flak for this (and indeed it has, receiving some really harsh, negative reviews), but I don't think it's really the film's fault - I think it's more of a case that today's film industry really can't cope with films it struggles to pigeonhole. It's like the execs and the marketing men have sat around and gone 'OK, it's not got superheroes in so it ain't the summer blockbuster, so what is it? Wait, it's got funny people in it and it's set at a wedding, so it's a comedy like Bridesmaids right? So, where are the laughs? What's that? It's a comedy drama? What the hell are we supposed to do with a film that can't make it's mind up what it wants to be?'

Table 19's not a great film, but the film industry is worse.

There's a good and very relatable idea at the heart of Table 19; we've all been to weddings and we've all found ourselves in that situation where we are guests, but we're not actually that close to the wedding party itself. We're the misfits, basically: the singletons, and the old schoolfriends, work colleagues or friends of the family. We're the 'randoms', invited solely because of some social obligation and, if we do decide to RSVP (and oh how many weddings I've not has the nerve to attend now!), then the only place to put us is together on a table far away from the main action. Right near the bogs. 

Table 19's randoms include Stephen Merchant as an embarrassing cousin, June Squibb as the bride's childhood nanny, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as business associates of the bride's father, and Tony Revolori as a socially awkward teenager who is desperate to lose his virginity there. Then there's our heroine, who really shouldn't be at Table 19 in the first place; Anna Kendrick stars as the bride's oldest friend whose place at the top table is lost the moment she dumps the best man/the bride's brother, played by Wyatt Russell.

A cast like this really deserved better than the obviously much revised but still rather first-drafty play that Table 19 actually is. I got the feeling that the writers (Blitz, or Jay and Mark Duplass) wanted to make a grown up version of The Breakfast Club (the wedding band playing '80s hits is the giveaway) but the characterisation is just too weak and the comedy is often missplaced. I had particular problems with Revolori's character, whose attempts at finding a girlfriend crosses the line into uncomfortable territory as we're left to wonder whether he's genuinely creepy or whether his social awkwardness is down to him being somewhere on the spectrum. Likewise Merchant's character, a black sheep who stole from the family business and is now living in a halfway house, is played with a similar gauche naivety that remains unsatisfactorily explored or explained. Given such slim pickings, Merchant delivers his usual bug-eyed mugging and foot-in-mouth comments but Blitz really fails to make the humour land. The film needed to lose one of them I think.

Table 19 is on much surer ground with the drama. After a perplexing start the film shifts into the bittersweet as the characters inner heartaches are revealed and the bonding process begins. It's not totally convincing and for an 80 minute film, you're left with the feeling that it's taken too long to right itself to actually succeed, but the cast are likeable and competent enough to just about sell it (especially Kendrick and Squibb who find themselves at two distinctive crossroads, and Kudrow and Robinson whose marriage has started to show signs of fracturing) but I didn't come away with the same affection I had for the gang at Table 19 as I have for The Breakfast Club. What I did come away with however, was the feeling that Wyatt Russell of all people may have just quietly stolen the film.

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