TABLE 19: An All-Star Cast, Breezy Laughs
[Published at Film Inquiry] Among the talents that emerged out of the mumblecore genre of the early 2000s, Mark and Jay Duplass remain arguably the most talented, versatile, and narratively poetic filmmakers and actors. Their latest effort, Table 19, is a mere icing on the cake in the context of their bodies of work. It’s nothing genre transcending by any means, but it brings just enough laughs with it to carry the audience through this thoroughly watchable Spring comedy.
With Table 19, they put their story in writer and director Jeffrey Blitz‘s hands, whose script is quick-witted, albeit at times slightly cloying and redundant. This marks Blitz’s first feature follow-up to the indie hit, Rocket Science. He and the Duplass brothers have found one of their best ensemble casts yet with frequent collaborators, Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson and Stephen Merchant, along with June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Wyatt Russell, Amanda Crew, and rising star Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dope).
The Duplass Brothers’ Due Diligence and Distinguished Filmographies
The Duplass brothers continue to achieve what very few filmmakers have been able to in their careers, having as much unmitigated creative control over their projects as they please. They stand among independent royalty next to names like Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, David Lynch and David O. Russell.
They are masters at excavating the most out of limited settings, focusing primarily on their actors’ reactionary and improvisational abilities.The distinct cinematic voices that they collectively possess transcends budget limitations. Despite not being financially successful, their films are highly regarded among film critics; their art speaks for themselves, as the brothers continue to cast phenomenal actors in their films that want to included in their vision.
Like every great filmmaker, the two are objective enough to know when a project is better in somebody else’s hands, whether those hands be helming a camera or penning a script, so as to avoid groupthink and create mutually inclusive and beneficial business and filmmaking models. If you’ll indulge me a bit, let’s take a look at just how versatile their filmographies really are:
From horror comedies (Baghead, 2008, as producers, writers, and directors), to romantic comedies (Your Sister’s Sister, 2011, Mark as producer and lead actor), millennial family dramedies (Cyrus, 2010, as writers and directors, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, 2011, as writers and directors), sci-fi buddy mysteries (Safety Not Guaranteed, 2012, as producers and lead actor, Mark), dystopian sci-fi romance (The One I Love, 2014, as producers and lead actor, Mark), to psychological found-footage horror thrillers (Creep, 2014, Mark as writer, director, and lead actor), historical fiction and road trip hybrids (Manson Family Vacation, 2015, as producers and lead actor, Jay), and searing romantic dramas (Blue Jay, 2016, as producers and Mark as writer and lead actor), they’ve shown that their creativity has no genre boundaries.
All of these films mentioned were critically well-received because they were a result of the right collaborative efforts to tackle each respective genre and intended cinematic tone. Table 19 is no different; the Duplass brothers certainly did their research in finding the right talent for this kind of loosely structured film. Blitz directed 11 episodes of the US version of the improvisational television series, The Office over a five-year period, so he is no stranger to limited sets. Suffice it to say, he does not see the film’s single-setting as an inhibition, but rather as an opportunity to bring out the best in the cast.
The Cast Of Caricatures
The film centers around 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, or, as its worded in the film, the “rejects who should have RSVP’d ‘no’ on the invitation.”
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 typecast) 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.
Despite the people at this table being exaggerated archetypes as a means of poking fun at the romantic comedy genre, they are the most genuine, relatable characters within the story. What’s key is that the cast is in on Blitz and the Duplass brothers’ meta-comedic vision of a rom-com as well, relieving the viewer of far less “eye rolls” than a less self-aware entry in the genre would entail. Furthermore, the all-star cast clearly has a blast working together, which is a key ingredient in the formula for good onscreen chemistry.
A Meandering But Enjoyable Ride
What ensues is a lighthearted comedy of errors that could easily be a stage play with its physically but not creatively confined spaces. The characters have nowhere to run to or hide, forcing them to confront their problems, much to the pleasure of the viewer.
The six characters smoke pot, talk life, go hiking, and are often seen simply strolling and chatting. 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 gets to absorb these funny yet poignant discussions and idle conversation as a fly on the wall. The six characters are at aimless phases in their lives, confronting a reality that few films of this light nature would dare to cover, that life doesn’t get better, only the way in which we choose to deal with it does.
The biggest surprise in Table 19 is the arrival of Russell as an actor. At first, he plays to his aloof and shallow typecast seen in such films as 22 Jump Street and Everybody Wants Some!!, but his character evolves into a much more interesting character by the end. There are a few dramatic scenes where Russell brings out genuine and raw emotions.
Had he not had such little screen time, Russell may have had himself a star-making performance- however, if enough people see Table 19, he should expect to see more acting opportunities that allow him to convey this range in the near future. The descendant of Hollywood royalty may end up a better actor than his parents, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and is proving to be as at least as talented as his half-sister, Kate Hudson.
Though It Cloys A Tad, Laughs Will Be Had
The plot never falls into romantic comedy purgatory by adding multi-dimensional secondary characters, executed by a cast that never tries to outdo each other. These heterogeneous characters of Table 19 offer a refreshing break from millennial ideals taking the thematic forefront with the help generational insight. The film is affable and empathetic, never aspiring to be more than it is in scope or scale. Perhaps this is what many filmgoers could use in times of such political uncertainty.
The wedding ceremony takes an applaudable back seat to the events that occur around the people of Table 19, and the realistic rabble between the table of misfits seems nonchalant and unforced, creating an infectious energy. While Blitz could have toned down a few superfluous physical gags and schmaltzy moments of self-actualization, as a whole, Table 19 is an easygoing little gem of a film. Clocking in at only 87 minutes, it marks an agreeably dulcet film for the Duplass brothers to add to their respective nonpareil filmographies.
Did you enjoy Table 19? Do you think the Duplass brothers made the right call with Blitz as its writer and director? What’s your favorite Duplass brothers film?
Table 19 was released on March 3.