I won’t say it’s impossible to make a good movie in which June Squibb plays a rapping granny, but it certainly adds to the degree of difficulty. Okay, technically Squibb plays a pot-smoking granny in Table 19, but it’s still funny because that’s not what grannies do! She should be home baking cookies or signing a DNR request or something! This is just one of many clichés Table 19 fails to transcend, which is itself something of a genre cliché: The Wedding Comedy.
Which isn’t to say that I shouldn’t have expected this, or that you can’t have cliches and stock characters and still be funny, but even if I prepped for Table 19 by watching three hours of Jackie Martling videos, it’d still be a disappointment. Jokes are like music. We know logically that there’s a formula, a mathematical symmetry to them that our dumb, non-unique 98% chimp brains are specially attuned to, but the great musician or comedian makes us forget that. They make us believe that laughter is entirely spontaneous, harmonies ineffable — magical things that aren’t bound by the normal laws of physics that say we’re all going to die some day. Table 19 is a movie that’s entirely incapable of disguising its underlying math. It never feels like anything but a collection of tricks, and even when you’re ready to be swept up in the artifice, it has a way of yanking away the satin cape to reveal some ones and zeroes. Ta da, it’s a pie chart! Also, you’re going to die.
Right, the plot. So “table 19” refers to the worst table at a wedding, at which sit jilted Eloise (Anna Kendrick), spunky granny Jo (June Squibb), nerdy mama’s boy Renzo (Tony Revolori, the bellhop from Grand Budapest Hotel), awkward ex-con Walter (Stephen Merchant), and bickering marrieds the Kepps (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson). As soon as I saw the poster I thought “Please don’t make Anna Kendrick play the sad sack ex and June Squibb play the rappin’ granny!”
Oh, but they are. In fact, probably the most interesting and successful creative choice in all of Table 19 was pairing Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as a team of husband-and-wife diner owners. Hey, that’s new! It’s an unexpected pairing that works. But Table 19 uses familiar stories like a security blanket, and even they gradually devolve into the Sweethearts Who’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.
Table 19 being the island of misfit toys, we open the film with the characters having a cry over why they’re not important to the bride and groom. Who, by the way, we know nothing about and don’t even see until the last 15 minutes of the movie. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for Wedding Crashers, where no one worried about where they ranked on the friendship hierarchy and people actually seemed to be having fun.