Jeffrey Blitz directed the winning 2003 documentary “Spellbound” before writing and directing the smart high-school comedy “Rocket Science” (2007), but then (apart from the 2010 documentary “Lucky”) he decamped for television, where he helmed episodes of shows like “The Office” and helped create the Comedy Central series “Review.” He returns with his second fiction feature “Table 19,” which he directs from a script he wrote from a story he concocted along with indie stalwarts Jay and Mark Duplass.
The picture that Blitz’s new effort most closely resembles is “The Breakfast Club.” Though the characters who populate the titular table—the one way in back in the dining room, designed for the outcasts at a wedding reception—are older than those in John Hughes’ 1984 detention-room dramedy, they’re frankly not much more mature in their attitudes and actions, and the plot trajectory is similar: a bunch of mismatched misfits are thrown together, bare their souls, and become friends. To be fair, Blitz is certainly not trying to conceal the influence of “Club” on his picture: toward the close he includes an ensemble dance sequence clearly modeled on the one Hughes staged (and set to ‘80s pop), even having his characters mimic some of the moves from the original.
Chief among them is Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick), the best friend of bride Francie Milner (Rya Meyers), who was relieved of her duties as maid of honor because she was dumped by the best man, Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the bride’s brother. The others are Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), who, as owner-operators of a diner, have a business connection with the bride’s family; Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant), a disgraced nephew of the bride’s father (Richard Haylor); Jo Flanagan (June Squibb), Francie and Wyatt’s childhood nanny; and Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori), a momma’s boy high school student who comes to the reception rather than go to a school dance because his mother (Margo Martindale, only whose voice we hear) thinks he might have a better chance to find a date at the singles’ table he hopes to be sitting at.
All of them have problems, of course. Jerry and Bina are constantly sniping at one another, and it will eventually be revealed that she insisted they attend because she had an ulterior motive. The ultra-shy Walter might introduce himself as a “successful businessman,” but in actuality he’s living in a half-way house just out of prison. Jo is lonely, and the wad of weed she has in her hotel room—which they’ll all eventually share, or course—has a purpose other than mere pleasure. And Renzo is crippled by constant rejection.
The greatest personal crisis, however, is Eloise’s. She is still clearly hurting from the breakup with Wyatt, and the revelation of what actually prompted it will cause the others to rally around her. She, meanwhile, will have a brief dalliance with an apparent wedding crasher named Huck (Thomas Cocquerel), whom she employs to make Teddy jealous. But that serendipitous connection doesn’t turn out quite as you might expect.
That’s the case with some of the other plot threads in “Table 19,” too. It’s not difficult to predict where the screenplay is destined to wind up, and most of the strands in it take the expected turns as well. A few, however, go places that you might find mildly surprising. The cast is engaging, too, with Kendrick bringing her customary perkiness to the party while Squibb adds the spunky old-lady insouciance familiar from “Nebraska” and the extravagantly tall Merchant (also appearing as Caliban in this week’s “Logan”) contributing a dose of British eccentricity to the mix. Kudrow and Robinson are a mite less ingratiating—the wrap-up to their storyline is frankly disappointing—and Revolori has little more than one note to play. But Russell manages to give surfer-dude Wyatt some layers.
In the end, though, Blitz’s picture is no better than moderately amusing, like a decent but forgettable network sitcom. Much of the slapstick degenerates into little more than falling-down sequences, and while there are clever bits of dialogue, too many of the lines simply lie there. There’s a heaping helping of sentimentality, moreover, in the final reels, and it’s terribly forced.
The production—designed by Timothy David O’Brien, with fine widescreen cinematography by Ben Richardson and editing by Yana Gorskaya that keeps things under ninety minutes—is solid by indie standards, and the eighties theme for the wedding allows us to hear some old favorites like Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” (always welcome to the ear). It all helps to make this a table you’ll probably not mind spending an hour and a half at, though the cinematic food it has to offer will leave you feeling hungry shortly afterward.