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The Oranges (A Movie Review)


Starring Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Adam Brody, Sam Rosen and Tim Guinee.

Screenplay by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss.

Directed by Julian Farino.

Distributed by ATO Films. 92 minutes. Rated R.

The Oranges is a quirky, funny and surprisingly heartfelt fractured fairy tale about modern suburban life.

There is a long history of films chronicling the rituals of suburbia – The Graduate, American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, many Stephen Spielberg films – and The Oranges is able to make this kind of micro-community even more insolated.

The Oranges (the title refers to West Orange, New Jersey, not the fruit) casts a knowing, darkly comic gaze over two very tight knit families – and as co-star Oliver Platt said in a recent press conference that we attended - lobs a grenade into their lives.

Those families are the Wallings and the Ostroffs. The Wallings are dad David (Hugh Laurie), mom Paige (Catherine Keener), son Toby (Adam Brody) and daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat). The Ostroffs are dad Terry (Oliver Platt), mom Cathy (Allison Janney) and wayward daughter Nina (Leighton Meester).

A quick survey of that cast reveals two things. First, it is an extraordinarily talented group of actors. Second, with the exception of Keener and Platt, all of them are better known for television than film work. In fact, the director, Julian Farino, is also known for TV, working on several HBO series, most prominently Entourage.

Thus, it is not totally shocking the The Oranges has a bit of a TV feel to it, which is not necessarily bad in itself. There is a lightness and smallness that doesn't always find a home on the big screen, but a certain amount of intimacy as well.

The Walling and the Ostroff parents are best friends. They are literally always together, cooking, playing games, discussing electronics, decorating their house for the holidays. Both couples are a bit bored with their marriages, but the extended family dynamic of the group of four keeps them occupied.

The kids are not so close – Nina and Vanessa were best friends when young, but as Nina blossomed and Vanessa stayed behind, Nina found new, cooler friends, and Vanessa never forgave her for that. The parents have always dreamed of Nina and Toby ending up together, and while Toby has some interest, Nina has none.

In fact, Nina had long before left the Oranges behind, never intending to return. However, after catching her fiancé with another woman at her birthday party in San Francisco, Nina has no place else to go, so she returns home for the holidays while she figures out what to do next.

It turns out that what she does next is David Walling. She gets into a relationship with her older neighbor, simultaneously exploding his marriage and the families' tight friendships. And, honestly, as an audience we're not 100% sure why this happens. We see what he sees in her, but we don't really see what she has to gain from the relationship – other than pissing her parents off.

However, if we allow The Oranges this conceit, it becomes an interesting allegory about modern life.

One nice thing about The Oranges is that it refuses to judge any of these people – even Nina's cheating former-fiancé turns out to be a pretty good guy. It also allows the illicit relationship to be something of a positive learning experience for all involved, while you can't say that anyone exactly has a happy ending, there is a relatively satisfying arc to the story.

Is The Oranges ever a little too optimistic and forgiving of its characters? Undoubtedly, but this was never meant as a hard-hitting expose of suburban infidelity, preferring to be a somewhat lighthearted look at a very dark potential circumstance. It's not even as shocking as some may claim – Nina was well of legal age and fully aware of what she was getting into when she got involved with a man (literally) old enough to be her father. In fact, she rather instigated it.

Occasionally The Oranges stoops to low-brow comic storytelling – the scene where a pissed-off Cathy drives her car up on the lawn to destroy the family Christmas decorations comes immediately to mind – but for the most part it is a thoughtful, if not always deep, look at a pair of families in crisis.

And as I pointed out earlier, the ensemble cast is incredible. Any film that can bring together that much talent is well worth a look.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: October 6, 2012.


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