Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is in a bit of a pickle. She’s been invited to a wedding, see. Specifically, her best friend’s nuptials – the one she helped plan for
months, and was supposed to be the maid of honor at, until she recused
herself when her ex-boyfriend (Wyatt Russell), a.k.a. the bride’s brother, dumped her. Still, she’s replying in the affirmative. But our unlucky heroine knows she’ll be subjected to that attacked-by-wolves feeling you get when you watch your former beau, the one she’s still head over stilettos for, get lovey-dovey with his new girlfriend at a wedding. So cross “Yes” out, and put a big X by “can’t attend.” But she has to go because she’s bigger than that, right? Fuck, this is tough. Cue setting the RSVP card on fire.
Still, Eloise knows there are some fates worse than death. For example, there’s being relegated to Table 19: the isolated, tucked-far-in-the-corner seats reserved for matrimonial-ceremony lepers and incurable misfits. “It’s the same wedding no matter where you sit,” she’ll chirpily repeat, but Eloise knows different. It’s the quarantine spot – that’s where you put folks like a bickering couple (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson) that the bride’s dad knows from the diner business. Or the old nanny (Nebraska‘s June Squibb) who the kids haven’t seen in decades. Or, say, the disgraced, socially backward ex-felon cousin (Stephen Merchant) and a horny, hopelessly nerdy teen (The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori). “It’s the table that should have known to RSVP ‘regrets,'” she declares. “The table that could go missing and no one would notice.” Guess where she’s sitting?
Viewers can’t be blamed if they expect director Jeffrey Blitz’s comedy to turn into a kinder, gentler Wedding Crashers at this point – everything seems set up for this to tiptoe into raunch-com territory, in which it’s all over but the disposable-camera dick pics and projectile vomiting. (Russell even seems to be channeling Owen Wilson’s amiable towhead doofus act at times.) But if you’re familiar with Blitz’s breakthrough doc Spellbound (2002) or his dry high-school farce Rocket Science (2007), which gave Kendrick her first big “who is that?” break, you know this is likely going to veer left. The same goes for the screenplay credit assigned to Mark and Jay Duplass, the wonder brothers seemingly involved with every third uncomfortably mumbly, emotionally raw indie dramedy of the past decade. There’s potential for real depth to go along with the inevitable cake destruction and impromptu make-out sessions.
What we get instead, however, is a tonally uneven mishmash of Wes Anderson quirk, John Cassavetes guts-spilling and The Breakfast Club, all of which somehow manages to dampen the talents of its crack ensemble cast. Yes, you get Kendrick’s patented cutesy-klutzy act, along with pot-smoking old biddies, infidelity accusations, surprise pregnancies and terminal disease bombshells. Robinson can still drop deadpan zingers with the best of them, and Kudrow still krinkles her nose and line-reads as if she’s accidentally eaten a bad plum better than anybody currently working. If you love movies that end with mass dance-offs to “I Melt With You,” you’re in luck. Mostly, however, what you get is six characters in search of a cringe-comedy that can cohere around them. Best wishes, folks.