Writer-director Jeffrey Blitz's film about such a group of outcasts who slowly begin to come together and bond is a sweet, warm and funny reminder of how comedies like this — which value characters over set pieces — can become, with the right cast, a welcome alternative to the raunchier, more cynical fare that has gradually become the norm.
The assembled ensemble here is nicely balanced and populated with many familiar faces. Anna Kendrick anchors the cast as Eloise, who was supposed to be the Maid of Honour until she broke up with the brother of the bride, Teddy (Wyatt Russell). She shares the titular table 19 with diner owners Bina (Lisa Kudrow) and Jerry Kepp (Craig Robinson), awkward ex-con Walter (Stephen Merchant), former nanny of the bride Jo (June Squibb) and struggling adolescent ladies' man Renzo (Tony Revolori).
Though the rapport between everyone is slow to develop at first, it deepens as they get to know more about each other. By the time they've abandoned the wedding after a mishap with the cake and retreated to Jo's hotel room to smoke pot, they're starting to genuinely like each other enough to start opening up about all of the ways life has disappointed them. It's refreshing to find a movie that's less about what happens as it is about people making new friends under the most unlikely of circumstances.
That's not to say the movie is devoid of any plot; each of the characters has been given some sort of major or minor conflict they have to work through. Some of these are more fleshed out and pay off better than others, as the actors do their best to ground the characters in reality, even while spouting one-liners or engaging in pratfalls. It's pretty easy to see where things are headed at times, though the arc of at least one character, who's introduced early and seemingly pre-ordained to be a new love interest for Eloise, doesn't exactly pan out the way you would expect.
Squibb is a real standout, generating pathos even while displaying impeccable comic chops, and the under-utilized The Office co-creator Merchant shines in what's probably the broadest role, as he regularly details life in a halfway house with a perpetually naked roommate named Jalapeno. Even the smaller roles are populated with talented actors, with Becky Ann Baker, Andy Daly and Maria Thayer all getting a chance to steal scenes. Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and perhaps the best part of Everybody Wants Some!!, exudes charisma as Eloise's ex, and seems as if he's just that one perfect role away from becoming a breakout star in his own right.
The script by Blitz is based on a story co-written by the Duplass brothers years ago, and it's not hard to still see the faint fingerprints of their low-key brand of comedy on the film. Perhaps what makes the premise so relatable is that we've all attended weddings and noticed the table 19 of forgotten and mismatched souls lurking off in the corner. Of course, if you're unable to identify it, there's always the chance you might just be sitting at it. (Fox Searchlight)