Life of the party

Nothing good has happened at a wedding. Ever.

Nothing good has happened at a wedding. Ever.

Rated 4.0

Surprises seldom come more pleasant than Table 19. If you’ve had it up to here with wedding comedies—Wedding Crashers, The Wedding Singer, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, etc.—here’s the movie for you. It takes all the overworked clichés of that overdone genre and turns them decisively on their heads. Every time you think you know where things are headed, the movie throws you a curve that, unexpected as it is, makes perfect sense. It has its own story arc that plays on our expectations, and it serves up a surprise every five minutes.

Anna Kendrick plays Eloise, who once upon a time was the bride’s maid of honor. Then her boyfriend Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the bride’s brother, dumped her via text two months before the wedding, and Eloise, to avoid awkwardness, withdrew as maid of honor in favor of Teddy’s new girlfriend (Amanda Crew). We first see Eloise as she waffles over how to RSVP to the wedding she helped plan. She finally decides to go, just to prove to herself that she’s over Teddy, and she finds herself seated at the dreaded Table 19. Since she helped plan the seating arrangements, she knows what that means: This is the table “for people who didn’t have the good sense to RSVP regrets—but not before ordering something nice off the registry.”

Others at the table are Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson), a squabbling married couple who were invited only because they run a diner and the bride’s father owns a chain of them; Jo Flanagan (June Squibb), the forgotten nanny of the bride and best man; Rezno Eckberg (Tony Revolori), whose connection to either bride or groom is never clear, but whose mother (the unseen Margo Martindale, her voice heard only on Rezno’s cell phone, hectoring him on) figured he’d have a better chance finding a girl here than at his junior prom; and Walter Thimple (Stephen Merchant), who is clearly unwelcome—the bride’s father barks at him, “What are you doing here? I thought they wouldn’t let you travel out of state.”

Meanwhile, Teddy is similarly belligerent toward Eloise, certain she’s only there to make a scene and ruin the big day for everyone. And Eloise meets a handsome stranger who claims his name is Huck (Thomas Coquerel); he catches her staring at Teddy and admonishes her, “You shouldn’t look at someone that long unless they’re looking back.” After one dance, Eloise plants a long kiss on Huck; is it just to get to Teddy, or is something really happening here?

Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz (from a story by Jay and Mark Duplass), Table 19 has a lurching sweetness that could seem off-putting or amateurish. For that matter, maybe it is—but in the present context it neatly suits this gangling gaggle of nuptial misfits. The movie makes us feel like the exiles at that table: We may squirm through some awkward moments, but in the end we’re really glad we came.