Eloise (Anna Kendrick) shows up at a wedding at which she was supposed to be maid of honour, only to find herself on the worst table in the room with a bunch of misfits for company.
You've almost certainly been there: invited to a wedding of someone you barely know (possibly at the last minute), and found yourself stationed — stranded, even — at the reception with the no-hopers, the losers, the riff-raff, the afterthoughts and the cousins so distant they're basically a dot to the main family.
An unexpectedly heartrending character study.
Oh, and of course you're by the bogs.
That's the premise of Jeffrey Blitz' Table 19, a rather winning comedy-drama that delivers much more effectively on the latter. Although it's an ensemble piece, at its heart is Anna Kendrick (reuniting with Blitz ten years after she made a fast-talking impact in his Rocket Science) as Eloise, who was once destined to be maid of honour at her best friend's wedding but has found herself relegated, for reasons that become painfully clear, to the dread table. There she finds herself making awkward small talk with a married couple who appear to have reached the end of their road (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), a British ex-con (Stephen Merchant), an old lady who was the bride's first nanny (June Squibb), and a horny teenager looking to pop his cherry (Tony Revolori).
At first Blitz tries to mine this odd grouping for laughs, not always successfully. We're very much in comedy of cringe territory here, and the running gags as Revolori’s Rezno tries to cop off with a bridesmaid, or Merchant’s Walter attempts to cling to his cover story — that he's a successful businessman — don't always land. There's also some comedy business with the wedding cake that feels very sitcomish.
But Blitz then shifts subtly into a rather lovely, touching and sometimes unexpectedly heartrending character study, letting his excellent cast get to flesh out these archetypes. Kendrick is dependably ace as a woman with the best of reasons for making the worst of decisions, Squibb gets her best role since Nebraska, and Wyatt Russell shines as the seemingly lunkheaded best man (and ex of Kendrick's) who has a lot more going on underneath.
Overcoming a shaky start, this low-budget rom-dram rewards patience, with a fine cast delivering strong work. Accept the invitation.