Table 19 is a mess of cliches, while A United Kingdom manages to highlight two great actors.

Anna Kendrick needs to start picking better projects.

The perky actress who won her way into everyone’s hearts with roles in Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, and more has a current streak of picking projects that she’s better than, and forcing the audience to kind-of say the same thing about her streak of quirky indie comedies: “so, did Kendrick save the movie?”

She managed to pull movies like Pitch Perfect 2, Mr. Right, and Happy Christmas from the doldrums of Netflix drunk comedies, but also had a few clunkers like Get a Job or Drinking Buddies that suffered despite her presence. It’s sad to say, but Table 19 is in the latter category. She’s certainly game to play the recently-dumped, but somehow still vivacious lead, and sells the couple twists that the movie throws us, but ultimately cannot save this movie’s second half from completely collapsing in on itself. No one becomes best friends with the island of misfits they meet at a wedding that they shouldn’t be at. Spare me.

Kendrick is teamed up with a prior directing partner in Jeffrey Blitz, and back in 07, they put out a wonderfully underrated movie called Rocket Science that more people should watch. I think that Table 19 will end up more in the ‘had a couple drinks and put on Netflix’ category.

The “story” is one of the various people who come to sit at the dreaded ‘Table 19’ at a wedding where their relationship to the bride and groom is tenuous at best. Anna Kendrick is Eloise, the recently dumped ex-girlfriend of the bride’s brother, and is taken from maid-of-honor status to being expected to decline the wedding invite.  She decides to go, and is seated with Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow as Jerry and Bina Kepp, diner owners who know the bride’s father, Stephen Merchant’s Walter, the convict cousin, Tony Revolori’s Renzo, I don’t know why he’s there, and June Squibb’s Nanny Jo, the childhood nanny of the bride and her brother. As the movie goes on, they each must confront some kind of problem plaguing them, and everything works out just fine.

There’s clearly an element in Table 19 that was refreshing, and it was that, despite the very apparent cliches in the ending, the ride there was filled with a few twists that I didn’t see coming. There are a few situations presented where I could feel at least tangentially invested. The movie does get helped by the wonderful Kendrick and always reliably snippy June Squibb (remember Nebraska?), but the other characters and their problems really don’t help things. At under 90 minutes, the movie feels much longer than that.

Stephen Merchant plays the awkwardness to a peak level that becomes uncomfortable, as does Tony Revolori, and they make their characters more unlikable instead of awkwardly endearing. Then, when marital problems arise between Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson, we don’t know them enough to care even a little bit. It was a complete hole in the story that look any momentum the film was gaining out of other storylines. There is a good movie hidden in here where a snippy and depressed Anna Kendrick could bond with the old codger nanny and have an unexpected good time at the wedding, but it was surrounded by extraneous parts that didn’t matter. In the end, when everything neatly resolves itself, you will look back at the plot and be surprised that certain elements of the story played such a major part, while seemingly major parts ended up being minor in the grand scheme of things. I also didn’t really laugh. So, outside of getting your fix of the lovely Anna Kendrick and June Squibb, I can’t really recommend this for any type of film-goer. It’s a total misfire.

 

Table 19 (2017)

Genre: Comedy

Director: Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science, Spellbound, Episodes of: ‘The Office’)

Starring: Anna Kendrick, June Squibb, Tony Revolori, Craig Robinson, and Lisa Kudrow

with: Stephen Merchant, Wyatt Russell, and Thomas Cocquerel

RT Score: 18%

 


It’s clear throughout the history of good biopics that they often are only as good as the actors that are able to buy into the less fantastical of premises. While A United Kingdom is not the most exciting film to cross screens recently, it does feature a duo of performances from well-regarded and respected actors who make the material all their own, and manage to keep the audience engaged and invested in their relationship together.

These two actors are the amazingly versatile Rosamund Pike and the emotionally sturdy David Oyelowo, capturing the struggle of two loved ones struggling through oppression and discrimination just because they are different races from each other.

David Oyelowo is Seretse Khama, an English law student who inherits the throne of the African nation of Bechuanaland through his family. While well-regarded by his people, Seretse forces a divide between current regent, his uncle Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene), and himself, when he courts and marries a white English woman Ruth (Rosamund Pike). While the people still vote him as leader, the English government opposes their union, instead supporting the South African policy of Apartheid because of conflict with the Soviets and an arrangement with the United States who was mining diamonds. An eventual ban on Seretse is imposed, separating him from his wife, and the film details the emotional and political struggle the couple goes through to reunite and lead their country.

The scenery, first of all, is gorgeous, capturing the African tundra extremely well, and introducing the audience to interesting African customs that seem foreign, but provoke sympathy for the tribes. We already are aware of the ability of Seretse to rule, we just want the government to step aside and allow him to put his nation on the right track. While certain systemic obstacles feel contrived (like a very silly Tom Felton performance), others feel real, and scenes of Seretse doing protests on the radio and trying to drum up popular support for his plight is very interesting. The rebellion against Apartheid overshadows the movie’s central relationships and romance, and some of the global implications of this conflict could’ve been better investigated and presented. It’s one of the biopics whose best story is the one that isn’t completely delved into.

The inconsistency and occasional lack of excitement from the plot may be a problem on the forefront, but it clearly is not enough to denigrate the film overall, as the backdrop and performances carry it to its conclusion. The courtship between the two could’ve been extended further, but the chemistry and power of these two actors is undeniable, and the movie succeeds on their merit.

 

3.5 stars

A United Kingdom (2017)

Genre: Drama

Director: Amma Asante (Belle, A Way of Life)

Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Vusi Kunene, Jack Davenport, and Tom Felton

RT Score: 84%

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