Friday, March 3, 2017

TABLE 19: Jeffrey Blitz & the Duplass Bros' adorable, funny, very smart new rom-com

I'm not as familiar with the television work of director Jeffrey Blitz (though I did see and enjoy his earlier films Rocket Science and Spellbound) as I am of the oeuvre of the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, of whom I am an increasingly big fan. So I hope Mr. Blitz, shown below, will excuse me if I credit at least some of the success of the delightful new romantic comedy, TABLE 19, to the clever and entertaining screenwriting of these two bros. Their screenplay and dialog point you in one direction, then very smartly but quietly go in another, and the result proves a funny, intelligent and surprising look at a group of losers whom you will grow, against all odds, to love.

Led by the talented and quirky Anna Kendrick, below, center -- who, as usual, uses her charm and intelligence to help ground her character, along with the film itself -- the delightful ensemble gathered around her has been cast with an eye for both the bizarre and specific, and each actor comes through beautifully. Individually, each character proves oddball and interesting, yet together they create a kind of joyous ensemble of surprising strength.

One of the great virtues of the screenplay is how it leads us to imagine or believe certain things about certain characters but then allows us to see them more fully and honestly, as the film progresses. I shan't say just which characters this is most true of, but you'll know it soon enough. The Duplasses also have a lovely, subtle way with comedic situations. (Keep your eye on the jacket worn by ensemble member Lisa Kudrow (at left, below, who once again combines her gifts for comedy and emotion into one very strong characterization.)

The plot has to do with the disparate group of wedding guests seated at the titular Table 19, the table at this particular wedding in which all the unwanted guests have been assigned a seat. How this group meets, bonds and wreaks not havoc but something quite wonderful is what the film is all about. Craig Robinson (at right, above, and center, left, below) as Kudro's hubby -- their shower scene late in the film shows us, without a bit of undue pushing, how very far the US has come since the time of Richard and Mildred Loving -- proves a terrific addition to the ensemble.

The screenwriters handle everything from character turnarounds to terminal illness in pretty close to exemplary fashion (subtly and believably), while Mr. Blitz provides both grounding and sublime goofiness around which his ace cast can indulge itself. That cast includes a terrific June Squibb (at right, above), who portrays the nanny of the wedding's bride and her brother, while Tony Revolori (to the left of Squibb) proves that The Grand Budapest Hotel was no fluke and Stephen Merchant (to the left of Revolori) portrays a sad sack just-released-from-prison with the sweetest combination of kindness and strangeness.

A word should be also said for Wyatt Russell (above), who plays Kendrick's not-so-hot ex-boyfriend with a very nice range of motivations and emotions.

For rom-com lovers, Table 19 ought to be a must, if only to see what Blitz and the Duplasses can do with and add to the usual formula. The movie -- from Fox Searchlight and running a swift and funny 90-or-so minutes -- opens today at theaters everywhere. Click here to find one near you.

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