Table for Five: Robert Lieberman’s Melodrama, Starring Jon Voight

In this social melodrama, Jon Voight (who also produced) plays J.P. Tannen, a former, self-absorbed professional golfer, who now lives in California.

The film is scripted by David Seltzer and directed by Robert Lieberman in an impersonal style, resulting in a predictable melodrama that fits more the small screen, though cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is sharp and impressive.

Tannen is estranged from his three children, who live in New York with their mother Kathleen (Millie Perkins) and stepfather, attorney Mitchell (Richard Crenna).  To renew their bond, Tannen decides to take them on a Mediterranean cruise. Tannen, who still has feelings for Kathleen, wants her to believe he’s a changed man.

On the cruise, Tannen is distracted by the prospect of picking up women, including French archaeologist Marie (Marie-Christine Barrault), often leaving the kids to fend for themselves. He reserves a table for five in the dining room, expecting to find an adult female companion for the fifth chair.

Youngest son Truman-Paul (Robby Kiger) has a learning disability, which Tannen impatiently pushes him to overcome. Adopted oldest son Trung (Son Hoang Bui) is caught stealing food and trying to order drinks with a phony ID. Their sister Tilde (Roxana Zal) is sensitive girl, but too young to act as a parent to the boys.

Tannen suggests that the kids think of him as a “friend,” even calling him “J.P.”  The family has fun together and Marie is impressed with Tannen as a caring parent.  Then, while en route to Athens, Tannen is informed that Kathleen has been killed in a car accident in New York while taking the dog to the vet. Grief-stricken, he is met in Athens by the children’s stepfather, Mitchell, who buried Kathleen and then flew to Europe to escort the children home.

Tannen insists on telling the kids himself, demanding more time. Mitchell tries to talk him out of this, but agrees to leave the kids with their father for a while.  In Cairo, Tannen tells Mitchell  that he considers custody of the children. Their conversation escalates into a profanity-laced argument. Upset, Mitchell reproaches Tannen for neglecting his children. He even vows to use his capacity as a lawyer to ruin Tannen and his business.

Visiting the Pyramids, Tannen finally breaks down and informs the kids that their mother has died.  At the next stop, Tunis, Trung runs away. He takes the first launch to shore, with the intention to work his way back to the U.S. Tilde tells her father that Trung has a history of running away; they catch him a marketplace. Tannen forces the boy to open up to him, whereupon Trung tells him angrily that he needs Tannen as a father, not a “friend.”

Mitchell is waiting in Genoa, prepared to take the kids back to the their home. Tannen then informs Mitchell that he is keeping them.

For the cruise scenes, producers chose the S.S. Vistafjor, which at the time was considered the biggest cruise ship. Many scenes were shot at sea during an actual voyage. Others were shot on location in Rome, Athens, and at the Giza pyramids.

Table for Five belongs to a cycle of Hollywood movies that were made in the wake of the success of Kramer Vs. Kramer, dealing with selfish husbands and fathers who go through transformation in the process of becoming more responsible and sensitive single parents.

The film opened in the US on February 18, 1983.