(2011)2.5Perry SeibertSometimes fantastic actors can make average material seem better than it is, and that's certainly the case with Julian Farino's suburban comedy/drama The Oranges; the film boasts an all-star cast that never missteps, but suffers from a script that feels like the first season of a cable show condensed down to two hours.
Best friends for decades, David Walling and Terry Ostroff (Hugh Laurie and Oliver Platt, respectively) are neighbors in a well-to-do New Jersey suburban neighborhood. Their two families get along quite well with each other, though both men are dealing with marriages that aren't as happy and fulfilling as they had hoped. David's union with Paige (Catherine Keener) is going through a particularly rough patch when Terry and Cathy (Allison Janney) expect a visit from their twentysomething daughter Nina (Leighton Meester), who recently broke up with her fiancé.
Although the whole group push Nina to get involved with the Wallings' accomplished son Toby (Adam Brody), she is instead attracted to David, and when the middle-aged man proves too weak to resist her advances, marriages, friendships, and families head down a path to destruction.
Screenwriters Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss have to juggle a great many characters over the course of this tragicomedy, and in an attempt to ground themselves they focus on the Wallings' tart-tongued daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat), who was childhood best friends with Nina. Vanessa narrates the film, and as each of David's relationships crumbles after he succumbs to temptation, it's their father/daughter bond that proves to be key. Vanessa is as full of anger and resentment as her parents, and it's kept her in a slackerish state of limbo as she's unable to get her life started. If she can forgive her father, then all of them can get on with their lives.
There's nothing wrong with this story, except that it's so mundane. It lacks the energy of either great drama or great farce even though the actors are all pitch-perfect -- few actresses do righteous indignation as forcefully as Keener, Laurie's naturally long face effectively communicates midlife depression, and Shawkat has a winning way with withering sarcasm. The plot points feel plausible, but the movie falls into an uncomfortable middle where it isn't messy enough to be real life and it isn't controlled enough to be riveting. If this story played out over 12 hour-long TV episodes instead of a single feature-length film, these gifted actors would have had more time to mine their characters' strengths and fragilities, and we would be as comfortable with them as they are with each other before David makes his fateful decision. The Oranges neither satisfies nor disappoints, but leaves you with the mildest of reactions: "That was fine, wish there was more."
Julian Farino's The Oranges is a darkly comic portrait of two suburban families who live next to each other. David Walling (Hugh Laurie) and his wife Paige (Catherine Keener) are having marriage problems, which finally blow up when he falls in love with Nina (Leighton Meester), the twentysomething daughter of his neighbors Terry (Oliver Platt) and Carol (Allison Janney). As this new relationship threatens to wreck marriages and friendships, the person who takes it the hardest is David and Paige's daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat), who used to be best friends with Nina before the latter dropped her prior to high school. The Oranges played at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.