Science has yet to identify the precise biomechanical workings of the cringe. A function of the sympathetic nervous system, it's an involuntary muscular reaction that occurs when we see or hear something embarrassing or unpleasant.
Watching Table 19, the new ensemble comedy starring Anna Kendrick, I'm pretty sure I strained several important cringe muscles. It's a surprisingly bad movie, the kind that usually get detoured into foreign markets or a DVD/digital release well before any U.S. theatrical distribution is negotiated. It's a genuine curiosity to see a specimen like this on the big screen.
On the plus side, it's only eighty-seven minutes long, so in the unfortunate event that you wind up in a theater showing Table 19, it all passes quickly. The setting is a wedding, and our heroine is Eloise (Kendrick), former best friend of the bride. Due to circumstances far too boring to explain, Eloise has been seated at table 19, reserved for the oddball guests that the family felt obligated to invite but secretly hoped would decline.
Also at table 19: Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as a bickering married couple, Tony Revolori as a nerdy high school cousin, Stephen Merchant as a disgraced coworker, and June Squibb as the bride's childhood nanny. After some initial slapstick business—Table 19 tries mightily to restore the noble pratfall—the characters wander off through the manicured grounds of the resort. They exchange stories, bare their souls, and proceed to bond.
The movie doesn't blend comedy and drama so much as toggle between the two, clumsily. Nothing here registers as authentic. The scenarios are contrived and the dialogue is regularly ridiculous. This is where the wincing comes in. The movie attempts to make wise observations about life, love, and loss, but there is no indication that writer-director Jeffrey Blitz is familiar with any of these things. The script feels like the first draft of a Screenwriting 101 thesis project.
The only performer having any fun in Merchant, who uses his gangly charm to pull off some inspired bits of physical comedy. And there's at least one good joke in the mix, but it concerns a naked convict named Jalapeno. Poor Anna Kendrick, a professional to the end, does her best to wring genuine human feeling out of the script. Kudrow, too.
Table 19 clearly wants to be The Breakfast Club for adults, but it never gets close. The film asks us to relate to characters it never establishes and buy into sentiment that it never earns. If you get invited to this wedding, I recommend that you politely decline with regrets.