Caution: this review contains spoilers.
Oh, predictable romcoms. Girl has a breakup, girl meets new boy and uses him to get back at ex, girl accidentally finds herself in love, some random drama happens, and then girl and new guy live happily ever after. It’s the “perfect” formula that’s been used time after time by women looking to feel better in that post break-up, pre oh my god what was I thinking realization. If that’s what you’re looking for, go see another movie.
In a month where we have titles like Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast, and Power Rangers, it’s inevitable that any buzz about a film like Table 19 is going to get swept under the rug. Because of that, I had virtually no idea what I was about to see going into the screening. The official synopsis of the film talks about ex-maid of honor Eloise and her decision to attend her oldest (not best, as the movie goes to great lengths to stress) friend’s wedding anyway. Eloise is no longer maid of honor because her boyfriend, best man and brother of the bride, Teddy, unceremoniously dumped her over text. Okay! That’s got to be a set up for some good laughs, right?
Table 19 has a few laughs, but not the funny kind. At least not in the beginning. The humor found in the first forty minutes of the film all stems from a deep discomfort for whomever is on screen at the time. You have Eloise who we’ve already touched on; Walter, the ex-con, Bina and Jerry, the married couple who hates each other, Rezno, the awkward teenager who just wants to get laid, and Jo, the bride’s old nanny.
To say the movie has a slow start is a bit of an understatement. Virtually nothing happens from the opener when we see Eloise having a deeply difficult time trying to figure out how to RSVP to a little past the half way point when Table 19 finally starts to figure out what it’s trying to say. Hidden in the exposition is the chance meet-up with the new stranger who would be the protagonist if this were your run of the mill romcom. His name is Huck. We’ll get back to the hunky Australian a little later.
Once you wade through all the exposition, you start to see the heart of the film. We find out that Teddy dumped Eloise because she was pregnant like the disgusting scoundrel he is. Walter’s an ex-con, but he did it to save a friend’s fictional dying wife; Bina and Jerry are an absolute mess, but it’s only because they want to be loved and things didn’t really go how they expected, Rezno is awkward as all hell but a real sweet kid when you get past that. And then there’s Jo.
Jo is the sweet old nanny you see alone on holidays that makes you tear up because you know that they have no one. Table 19 doesn’t spend a ton of time focusing on the character since the movie’s not really about her, but of all of them she broke my heart the most. She raised these kids in the absence of their seemingly useless mother, immediately knew Eloise was pregnant, and is just generally the sweet nanny that deserves to be doted on by a hoard of grandchildren that she doesn’t have. Also she’s dying.
It might seem like that’s a lot of explanation for one sixth of an overall ensemble, but Jo matters more to Eloise’s story than the rest of the gang. It’s Jo’s advice that nudges her to seek out the aforementioned Australian hunk, Huck. Plot twist: the Australian hunk Eloise totally would have ended up with if this were the standard rom-com formula is secretly the groom from the neighboring wedding. Womp womp!
It is Jo once again helping Eloise see that perhaps she should have been with Teddy all along. Love is a messy disaster, after all. Teddy’s a complete mess, but so is Eloise. He left her because he thought he thought she thought he wouldn’t be a good dad, etc. etc. Does that change happen so quickly one could get whiplash? Yes, and no. There are enough other side stories going on with the ensemble cast that it takes a few moments to get there, so it’s not as snappy as it may seem.
Table 19 is deeply awkward but surprisingly touching. Anna Kendrick acts her heart out in her alone moments where she allows herself to break down. Stephen Merchant and Lisa Kudrow also deliver surprisingly heartfelt performances that you wouldn’t have expected in the very beginning of the movie. If you’re the type of person who can physically feel discomfort oozing through the screen, and don’t so much care for that sensation, you may not dig it. However, if you like love stories that illustrate what love without the honeymoon phase is actually like, this will give you a fairly apt depiction. You won’t expect to feel for the characters in the beginning, but they’ll sneak up on you. Kind of like that messy, awkward, disastrous thing called love.