The Oranges

2012-12-03 11:48
What's it about:

The Ostroffs and the Wallings have been good neighbours and even better friends for many years. Their idyllic co-existence is thrown into turmoil when the Ostroffs' prodigal daughter Nina (played by Leighton Meester) returns home after living in San Francisco for 5 years and falls into an illicit affair with David Walling (Hugh Laurie), her father's best friend from across the street.

What we thought:

Somewhere amongst The Oranges' quirky comedic sensibilities, rock solid casting and intriguing Scarlet Letter-lite premise exists a good movie – only it manages to fall apart in the hands of director Julian Farino, in his Hollywood feature debut.

It's not that The Oranges isn’t a good, sometimes feel-good exploration of suburban ills, it's just not particularly inclined to prove it to its audience.

Like picturesque suburbs all over, The Oranges, New Jersey is less than idyllic beneath the surface. For all their familial harmony, it transpires that the marriage between David and Paige Walling has come to a crashing halt, while Carol (Allison Janney) only tolerates her ebullient and gadget obsessed husband Terry by pretending to not hear what he is blathering on about most of the time. Many married couples are sure to find something to relate to. But why do we have to care about these particular unhappily marrieds? It's a question Farino and the writers can't seem to answer.

There’s just no denying that the calibre of cast this movie has attracted is its real selling point. In fact I was rather struck by how the cast was peppered with actors from some of my favourite TV series – The West Wing (Allison Janney), Arrested Development (Alia Shawkat, playing Vanessa Walling – the film's increasingly agitated narrator), House (Hugh Laurie), The O.C. (Adam Brody) and, ahem, Gossip Girl (Leighton Meester).

Ok, maybe that last one isn't one of my particular favourites but Meester has consistently been the most assured and captivating out of that show’s cast. The Oranges gives her the opportunity to play the film’s central enigma – an alluring but disaffected young woman whose own broken heart leads to the break-up of a family and ruins the friendship between her father Terry (played with an infectious energy by Oliver Platt) and her new lover (Laurie).

Though the more time we get to spend with Nina the less we know about her. She returns home after catching her fiancé cheating on her at her birthday party. She wants to be a chef and was once Vanessa's best friend until senior year when Nina started hanging with the cool crowd.

Vanessa may be the film's wry observer, watching helplessly as her father shacks up with a girl her age while her mother Paige (played by Catherine Keener) is left at a loss with what to do with her once safe and predictable life, but we know even less about her. The many opportunities to wrench some twisted comedy out of her furniture store job and wacky colleagues goes nowhere. Instead, just like Nina and the rest of the unhappy people who colour this tale, she can hardly articulate just why she is so frustrated with her parents, her ex-best friend and her failed attempts at making a life for herself in Manhattan as an industrial designer.

The only person who seems to be happy with his lot is Vanessa's older brother Toby (Brody) who is often abroad for work and was once the great hope of both families as Nina's future husband – only their first date was enough to convince them both it was never going to happen (except Carol who still has her hopes pinned on a marriage to forever tie the Ostroffs and Wallings).

When Toby returns home from China for Christmas and discovers his parents have split and his once maybe-girlfriend has moved into the family home, The Oranges writers set up the mother of all confrontations – and then, annoyingly, just comes to a crashing halt, unsure of what to do with the melting pot its created and desperately looking for a worthy conclusion which just doesn't quite happen.

The contentious romance between David and Nina seems genuine enough, but it’s nearly impossible to be invested in them or any of the relationships that just about hang on in the wake of their scandal.

The Oranges may be pretty on the outside, but it leaves an unsatisfying taste that would have been so much sweeter in more capable hands.

A sweet but unsatisfying comedy-drama about a young woman who returns home for the holidays, only to get into an affair with her father's much older best friend.

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