Anna Kendrick makes you feel things in Table 19

“I think it just means she’s a good actor,” my wife tells me; meanwhile, I grapple with how Anna Kendrick can make me feel so sad for her, in her movies, as if she were one of my dearest friends, whenever she flips the compassion-getting switch.

Yes, Anna Kendrick is a great actor, but put another in her role and does that replacement yield the same emotional pull? I think not. I think Table 19 needs her for this specific purpose, as if only she can play Eloise.* I think she’s had this effect on me for years, dating at least as far back as Drinking Buddies (2013), a film she transplanted a heart into, right at the end, because of her character’s sudden emotional break.

(*A great name for a character, by the way.) 

Table 19 is about that random table at your wedding where you seat all of the guests you invited but didn’t expect to come. Eloise is at that table, though how she ended up there is a far-fetched, fallen-from-grace story. Eloise went from maid of honor to rejects’ table all because she was dumped by the best man and then was replaced by that best man’s new girlfriend, whose relationship to the bride, even as I write this, is a cold case I can’t break. Eloise is seated with a circus of characters (played by Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant and June Squibb), each, like Eloise, has problems of their own they’re working through, the most fun of which is Merchant’s character, Walter, who has just gotten out of prison.

The group sticks together. They stir up a little trouble. They have a good time, very little of which is spent at the actual reception, which is either* the longest or shortest (and discombobulated)** reception of all time. It’s funny and entertaining overall. The only detracting problem with it is that it doesn’t settle into place on how it wants the audience to feel about the best man, Teddy. The filmmakers want you to hate his guts at first but be accepting of him later, and it just doesn’t work for me.

(*I really can’t decide, guys.)

(**Eloise brags a lot, early on, about planning 90 percent of the wedding. I got married two years ago. This wedding and reception wasn’t very well-planned.) 

Eloise is quite a bit conflicted about Teddy, though the audience is almost certain in thinking this is one of those stories when the sympathetic female lead meets someone new and amazing. It isn’t, but I don’t think that’s a surprise. If you look at roles Anna Kendrick has taken in What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) and Drinking Buddies, there are similarities in the parts. She plays someone in love, whose been wronged, pushed away, or made to feel unwanted, but who can’t help wanting who she wants.* In all three parts, when Anna Kendrick’s climactic emotional break comes, she convinces the audience that these two people are really in love, they were just being dumb, they were meant to be together.

(*That’s so real to me.)

How does she get us there? It angers me to simplify it down to her being a good crier, but she is. Her high voice complements the visual. In Table 19, she screaming through her big, heartbreaking scene and you have a visceral reaction to it. She’s great in these moments. This movie, and the others, need that moment. Because, while a lot of silly stuff happens in the interim, the times comes when Anna Kendrick reaches out and pulls you into believing in a story about two messy millennials in love that you weren’t even sure was there. And then, suddenly, it’s all very real to you.

Table 19: Happy customer ★★★*

(*Writer’s note: I’m rating on a new rewatchability scale.)

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