In the farthest corner of a wedding reception sit the undesirables: the Kepps, Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry (Craig Robinson), a passive-aggressive couple invited by the father of the groom; Jo (June Squibb), the elderly former nanny of the bride’s family, almost swallowed by her hot-pink cake hat; the bride’s creepy cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), on parole for crimes unknown; Renzo (Tony Revolori), the sex-obsessed teenage son of a deceased family friend; and Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the ex-girlfriend of the best man, deposed from her original spot at the front by a new flame. Yes, it’s The Breakfast Club remade with adults, complete with secrets waiting to be spilled, a soundtrack of ’80s hits (performed by a tireless wedding band), and a pot-smoking interlude. Kendrick even has Molly Ringwald’s slightly open mouth, minus the full lips, and Revolori could pass for a dorkier Judd Nelson. And yes, it’s as tired as “The Breakfast Club remade with adults” implies.
To be fair, Table 19 brings to mind more than just a John Hughes nostalgia item. It recalls formulaic rom-coms set around weddings, little-loved stage farces, the Project Greenlight production The Leisure Class—all unflattering comparisons, considering some of the talent involved. Jeffrey Blitz, who wrote and directed the film, also made the documentary Spellbound and has more recently come to be known as the director of Comedy Central’s priceless Review. (He also gave Kendrick her first leading film role with his last theatrical release, Rocket Science.) Perhaps he has had his fill of handheld camerawork, as he avoids it almost completely here (the pot-smoking scene is the exception), which makes Table 19 look more professional and put-together than most modern comedies. One might even say that it knows the rudiments of framing—say, in the way the Kepps are introduced sitting in adjacent booths in their family-owned diner or how a climactic scene is punctuated with a shot of a boat disappearing from view.
These are modest qualities, though sadly uncommon for a movie that’s trying to be funny—which Table 19 is only rarely, and then largely thanks to old hands like Merchant and Robinson, who could do their respective characters in their sleep. (Revolori—who spends most of the movie answering calls from his mother, voiced by an unseen Margo Martindale—deserves better roles.) It’s tough to believe that Blitz, who has directed some of the darkest comedy on American TV, could be responsible for such a corny movie, with little to offer aside from mildly amusing or diverting incidents: a running gag about a character accidentally showing up dressed like a member of the catering staff that’s been done a million times before; Eloise’s interactions with a handsome wedding crasher (Thomas Cocquerel) and her ex (Wyatt Russell, with his hockey player nose, sounding more than ever like Owen Wilson); Walter’s alien-like attempts at blending in with the other guests.
It’s a strange thing to watch a movie and think that the script would be better served by a small amateur theater with an audience of friends and relations. At least one could proudly whistle at the curtain call, knowing that all involved had put in their best effort. On screen, all it accomplishes is an enervating exercise in cinematic you-are-there: a mere 87 minutes with the perceived duration of an afternoon-and-evening-long wedding reception unfolding in real time. And just like at the real thing, the only fun comes from the occasional spill, song, or familiar face.