Film Review: In ‘Table 19,’ Russell, Kendrick and an Adept Ensemble Add to the Duplass Brothers’ Nonpareil Filmographies
[Published at Awards Circuit] “Table 19“ is further proof that the Duplass brothers can do no wrong. Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass have consistently consummated what very few filmmakers have been able to do in their careers: they have complete creative control over all of their projects. They have joined independent royalty along the likes of Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell. From the beginning of their filmmaking careers, the demiurgic duo have made exactly the movies they set out to make, regardless of financial gain. Furthermore, they do all of their work on minimal budgets, which does not take away from their art in any sense; having the assuredness of cinematic voices that they harmoniously possess transcends budget limitations. They continue to cast phenomenal actors in their films because actors want to be a part of their vision; it is a privilege to work with these creative forces.
Throughout the Duplass brothers’ respective filmographies, they have shown, like every great filmmaker, that they know when to bring in new talent, artistic visions and new filmmakers so as to avoid groupthink and create mutually inclusive and beneficial business and filmmaking models. With “Table 19,” they put their story in director Jeffrey Blitz‘s hands, who adapted it into a quick-witted, albeit at times slightly cloying and redundant screenplay. This marks Blitz’s first feature follow-up to indie heartthrob, “Rocket Science.” He, along with the Duplass brothers, have found their best ensemble cast yet with frequent collaborators, Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson and Stephen Merchant, along with June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Wyatt Russell (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son), Amanda Crew, and rising star Tony Revolori (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Dope”).
The film follows Eloise (Kendrick), an ex-Maid-of-Honor at an upcoming wedding that resulted from a break-up text by the groom’s Best Man, Teddy (Russell) who also happens to be the bride’s (her best friend) brother. After contemplation, Eloise proceeds to go to the wedding, and is seated at the titular Table 19, where the audience is introduced to the eclectic, eccentric cast of characters. Jo (Squibb), is the retired and forgotten nanny of the community, whose children have all grown up, alienating her. Walter (Merchant, playing well to his awkward character archetype) provides perfect comedic relief as the well-intentioned buffoon and harmless, ne’er-do-well ex-con. Bina (Kudrow) and Jerry (Robinson) are the middle-aged married couple going through marital problems, struggling financially and intimately. Finally, we have the young teenager, Renzo (Revolori), eager to find love (or get laid, whichever comes first), who was pressured by his mother, who, hilariously, wants to get him laid even more than he wants to.
What ensues is a gloriously lighthearted rollercoaster ride of comedy of errors all in one setting. It could easily be a stage play with its physically but not creatively confined spaces. Blitz and the Duplass brothers are masters at exhuming the most out of immured settings, allowing the cast to shine and flex their reactionary and improvisational abilities. Blitz directed 11 episodes of the television series “The Office” over a five-year period, so he is no stranger to limited sets. Clearly, he does not see it as an inhibition, but rather to bring the best interactions and quirks out of the multi-dimensional characters that the fine ensemble personify at the “forgotten” table. The wedding ceremony laudably takes a back seat to the amiable, albeit flawed events that occur around the people of Table 19. These people have simply lost their places in this world at the respective time periods in their lives; we are dealing with the issues that all ages go through. Nothing gets better, we either learn how to continue to endure adversity, or we dissolve. The six characters smoke pot, talk life, go hiking, and are often seen just walking and talking. It is in these moments, at the table, in the bathroom, the elevator, or Jo’s hotel room, that provide the most charm. The audience revels in these comedic yet poignant discussions and idle conversation. The six characters are at aimless phases in their lives, yet when they are together, everything seems right. The naturalistic relationship and banter between the table of misfits seems nonchalant and unforced, and the chemistry among them is infectious.
Blitz and the Duplass Brothers have created a delightful, overwhelmingly adorable and winsome little gem of a film, clocking in at only 87 minutes. As a viewer, your facial muscles will likely be sore from smiling the whole movie. “Table 19” can best be described as a buddy dramedy and romantic comedy hybrid. The film somehow manages to avoid clichés that often plague buddy comedies and romantic comedies by confronting them and turning them on their heads. Blitz roisters in making the viewer believe that this will unfold as a typical film, but the Duplass brothers would never allow anything too obvious for the viewer to discover in their work. Granted, Blitz could have left out a couple of extraneous physical gags, but the audience was roaring laughing and honored the film with an inordinate ovation as the credits rolled. The filmmakers have made something that evades tired genre tropes and refreshingly breathes life into the romantic comedy by adding bracingly multi-dimensional secondary characters that never try to outdo each other.
Suffice it to say, Table 19 represents the “rejects who should have RSVP’d ‘no’ on the invitation.” Yet, the people at this table are the most genuine, least superficial ones at the wedding, excluding Russell, who is the biggest surprise in the film. At first, he plays to his naive, aloof and vacuous typecast, but his character evolves, much to the audience’s pleasant stupefaction. There are a few dramatic moments for Russell that cut to the bone, and should undoubtedly earn him an opportunity to convey more well-deserved range with future opportunities for roles in his films. This descendant of Hollywood Royalty can act better than his parents, and is even giving half-sister Kate Hudson a run for her money. One might go so far as to say it would be a star-making performance for Russell, had he not had such little screen time. The ending of “Table 19” is perfect, as perfect as the characters are imperfect. This is not your average crowd-pleaser, but rather a refreshing break from the norm in the portrayal of millennial ideals in film with the help of the incorporation of generational insight through its heterogeneous characters. Perhaps what is the best part of this film is its timing; it is an affable, unpretentious, empathetic film that never aspires to be more than it is, and that is what a lot of filmgoers could probably use right now. This marks yet another dulcet film for the Duplass brothers to add to their multifarious filmography.
“Table 19” is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures and hits theaters March 3 in the U.S.