Sunday, 14 May 2017

Movie Review: Table 19 (2017)



Even with the amount of hatred I’ve been able to generate over the pretty awful films I’ve covered over the last few years, I have rarely if ever been ungrateful for having sat through them myself. I say that because even the worst films still have enough good grace to give me things to dissect and write about. In fact, it is usually the bad ones that give me the most material, as blind fury is often an easier feeling to express than anything pleasant. This entire blog exists because of my own love for film and writing about film, so I'd be a bit stupid if I was entirely ungrateful for the films that give me the best material to work with. Hell, I'd even go so far as to say that some of my best work has come out of the more egregiously awful films that I've sat through. However, every so often, there comes a film that is so bland, so dull, so not engaging that I am left struggling to properly articulate how I truly feel about the work. We’ve unfortunately got another one of those today so, as you read this, understand that every single word on this page was wrung out of my brain with quite a bit of effort. tl;dr Sorry if this review turns out too boring to slog through. This is Table 19.

The plot: Recently broken-up and now former bridesmaid Eloise (Anna Kendrick), possibly against her best wishes, decides to go to her best friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, she has been seated at the ‘loser’s table’ with nanny Jo (June Squibb), bickering couple Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Lisa Kudrow), parolee Walter (Stephen Merchant) and awkward teen Renzo (Tony Revolori). As they sit through the proceedings, and wondering why they even showed up in the first place, they come to some sort of conclusion after they start bonding. I say “some sort of conclusion” because I don’t think there’s enough actual plot here to warrant an actual conclusion to anything.

The cast here is, frankly, depressing to see. Between the occupants of the titular table, there’s at least 10 good or even great films that I’ve seen these people in over the years. I know for a fact that these are people capable of delivering the goods, which makes it even more heartbreaking that they are all as flat as they are here. Kendrick is trying admirably with the thin role she’s given, and all the credit to her that she’s showing as much emotion as she is, but that’s where the good ends, really. Robinson and Kudrow are pretty bland as your standard argumentative couple, Squibb barely has a presence outside of being the most visibly old person at the table, Revolori is given raging hormones as his character and he pushes that button for all it’s worth (which apparently isn’t that much) and Merchant is even worse in how one-note he is; he’s basically a walking punchline with how badly he’s hiding the fact that he left prison to be at the wedding, and that’s about as funny as he gets. I’d get into the other actors but, quite frankly, the mains are depressing me enough as is so let’s just move the hell on.

With an initial story credit given to the Duplass brothers, the kingpins of indie quirk, it’s little wonder that this film is as awkward as it is in terms of dialogue and general events. What is something of a wonder is that the comedy is this fucking weak and desperate. With a running time that doesn’t even reach 90 minutes, this is less lean and trimmed to perfection and more aimless wandering around its own plot trying to find something for the characters to do. The supposed comedy of the dialogue exists solely in its awkwardness, except it’s being channelled through words that no right-headed human would actually say in real life. When it gets to the point where a character is just declaring that he has an enormous penis (in front of Andy Daly, who has somehow found a worse film to be in this year than Middle School), it sinks in that this film is just flailing around in a feeble attempt to amuse. No, actually, strike that: the real point where that comes across is once you start taking note of how often characters will just randomly trip and fall over for literally no reason. It’s less slapstick and more boomstick, in that this wedding desperately needs a shotgun for anything worthwhile to take place.

The story is incredibly weak, but then again, that’s no surprise coming from the Duplass brothers. Their entire niche in American independent filmmaking is built on an emphasis of character and dialogue as opposed to strict narrative. As filtered through writer/director Jeffrey Blitz, though, that seems to translate as “let’s make a third-rate Breakfast Club knock-off”. I know that similar claims have been made concerning Power Rangers from earlier this year, but quite frankly, this is way more blatant in that regard. From the initial meetup of people who are at the given place either through bad decisions or just lack of judgement, to the eventual outpouring of inner turmoil induced to the surface through smoking weed, right down to the somewhat stilted pairing-off at the end; this isn’t even trying to hide it. Again, I should reiterate that mimicry in film isn’t an automatically bad thing; hell, The Breakfast Club is my all-time favourite film so homages to that aren’t exactly going to make me hate a film any more than I already do. No, what makes this bad is how it’s done with literally none of the punch or flavour of that film or any of its previous copycats. We have characters very stiffly stating their motivations, their issues and their connections to other characters, all without actually solidifying their own characters in the process. The only one who comes close is Eloise, and even then her own drama is brought about through means that I honestly thought were just being brought up as a cheap joke… until I realized that the film was being dead serious. She even gets a clichéd rom-com conclusion involving a ferry and a very long swim whose triteness is matched only by the fact that it all happens off-bloody-screen.

With the general conceit involving what is essentially the rejects table, made up of people who are either invited out of apathetic necessity or as a result of some wrong-headed idea about how weddings usually turn out, the film seems to want to make some kind of pro-outsider statement through the characters. I think. I honestly can’t tell if that is an actual intent of the production or if that’s just my own brain trying to cling onto any form of subtext that it can work with because, as you may have already noticed, this film is incredibly underwhelming. And it didn’t even need to be this way! All the right pieces seem to be in place with the casting, and the mere idea of an uncomfortable wedding opens itself up for quite a few possibilities for comedy and even drama, and yet Blitz appears to be either unwilling or unable to deliver on any of it. We get a few glimpses at actual humanity here, like with the Kepps’ marital issues, Renzo’s parental concerns and even Walter’s naïve meekness, but it’s all drowned out in a script that feels more comfortable with awkward silence than awkward literally-anything-else. Seriously, Eloise constantly changing her mind on the wedding RSVP at the very start is as complex as this film gets in terms of character actions.

All in all, this has all the dreariness, boredom and drawn-out forced pleasantries of an actual wedding, only without the free booze and free food to make it seem like you didn’t completely waste your time. A well-intended but still badly utilized cast, a story that is too basic to seemingly give the writer/director enough to work with and an approach to comedy that is more sad to see unfold than anything else, this is a film that literally has no reason to exist. For all the flak I gave A Dog’s Purpose in how dull it was, this is an even bigger offender in that regard. Even for a light-weight comedy, you could throw a dart in a rental store and find something that’s worth watching more than this. It’s worse than Rings, which may have also missed the mark in its main intent but it at least had some decent ideas in it. They weren’t used properly by any stretch, but they were still there, whereas here, there’s next to nothing. However, for as aggravating as this film is in how offensively inoffensive it is, it still doesn’t make the rage pool in my brain as quickly as A Cure For Wellness.

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