Indie rom-coms are tricky. While they mostly teeter on the edges of cheese, comedy, and the disillusioned youth of this generation, they’re also generally straightforward. Girl meets boy, boy is interested in someone else and/or (insert obstacle to be overcame), boy and girl either end up happily ever after, or they go their separate ways, knowing it’s for the best. Flip it however you want, there’s always going to be that fairly typical, paint by numbers storyline we’re so fond of. Sometimes we get that breakout film, delving deep into a new subsect of human emotion. Table 19, is not that film, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own charm.
Telling the story of a group of misfits sitting at the very edge of a wedding, cast to table 19 in an effort to keep them all in the same area, Anna Kendrick once again stars as the quirky everywoman, dying of anxiety as she gets ready to face her ex at the wedding. As we get little clips about each character sitting at the table it becomes clear that their backstories would solely be these intros, causing the character development to fall flat and leaving a gap in what very well could have flowed effortlessly.
Kendrick’s anxiety travels to the audience in a positive manner; who among us hasn’t dealt with the heartache of your past significant other being so close, but further away than they’ve ever been? Her story is bookended by the tragedy of her table mates, including the ex-con/cousin of the bride (Stephen Merchant), the estranged married couple who are vaguely friends with the Father of the bride (Lisa Kudrow & Craig Robinson), a teen looking for validation in the form of some sort of sexual encounter (Tony Revolori), and the forgotten ex-nanny of the bride (June Squibb). The main closeness plaguing the table is their incessant loneliness taking over their being, lying heavily on their consciousness as they try to figure out why they showed up in the first place.
Things quickly unfold in a very Duplass manner. Kendrick is revealed to be the ex-maid of honor to the bride while we sit and speculate on whether or not the brother of the bride is a garbage laced fuck boy, or simply a broken-hearted dude who was unable to handle his feelings in a reasonable manner. It goes back and forth several times, using the few hours during the wedding as the tester for what could be the rest of their lives.
Even though Kendrick’s (mostly) all-star cast of table 19 weirdos don’t quite get the screen time they deserve, it is their sorrows and victories that really give the film the turn it needs to remain relevant. We’ve been here before, we’ve felt for the characters, because we are them. Or at the very least, we will be. Growing up and looking for someone to guide your burgeoning emotions. Gaining forgiveness to find peace, and a place you belong. Dealing with the struggles of being with your partner, when one or both of you has fallen out of love. And of course, growing old and being forgotten, losing touch with the world around you as you reach for that one last relationship that could mend your broken heart.
Among the morose realization that we’re all in the same boat, there’s also a lighthearted playfulness that keeps things light enough to pacify even the pickiest of rom-com viewers. The entire soundtrack is made up of 80’s hits, performed by the young and disillusioned wedding band. While a little off putting at first, the film offers a satisfactory explanation, elevating the music into its own character. Kendrick even has a little romp with a mysterious fake Hemsworth brother (Thomas Cocquerel) who literally embodies the old adage of “looks can be deceiving”.
What most stands out is the fact that the Duplass brothers have been able to create female characters, playing to a female audience, without being overtly male about it. There’s a quiet dignity underlying Kendrick’s stubborn character that’s elevated by Squibbs determination to help her young charge by proxy, and Kudrows reticence to get involved. While the male dominated industry may be changing at a snail’s pace, at least there’s comfort in the fact that some of those testosterone soaked scripts floating around Hollywood take into account the realities of how genuinely odd it can be to be a woman. Table 19 may not be the movie of the year, but it’s a genuine look at the beauty and horrors of the human condition, all wrapped up in 87 minutes.
Table 19 is now playing in theaters everywhere.
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