The Oranges
dir Julian Farino
scr Ian Helfer, Jay Reiss
prd Anthony Bregman, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech
with Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Alia Shawkat, Adam Brody, Sam Rosen, Tim Guinee, Hoon Lee, Aya Cash, Heidi Kristoffer
release US 5.Oct.12, UK 7.Dec.12
12/US 1h30
The Oranges
Dangerous liaison: Laurie and Meester

keener janney platt
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Oranges Watching this comedy of errors, you get the sense that the filmmakers think it's a quirky, hilarious romp. But the movie never takes a single risk with its pointed premise, instead opting to take a middle road that's soft and easy. Fortunately, the cast makes the most of it.

Living across the street in West Orange, New Jersey, two families have been best friends for decades. David and Paige (Laurie and Keener) have two grown children, Vanessa and Toby (Shawkat and Brody), while Terry and Carol (Platt and Janney) have one wayward daughter, Nina (Meester). Everyone's delighted when Nina comes home for Thanksgiving, even though she's just broken up with her fiance (Rosen). Then as David struggles with his marriage, he drifts into an affair with Nina, which is all it takes to blow these life-long relationships out of the water.

Clearly, this should have been an edgy black comedy, but the filmmakers take a warm, simplistic approach that majors in limp jokes and corny slapstick, never bothering to dig into the characters' motivations. This makes it virtually impossible to believe David's and Nina's relationship, which is obviously reactionary, although that idea is never explored. Instead the film focuses the family fallout, which is all rather obvious.

Oddly, the story is narrated by Vanessa, an underused character who's so sidelined that we don't miss her when she's off-screen, which is quite a lot. This leaves a gigantic hole in the narrative, which is filled by scene-stealers Janney and Keener, who add emotion and intelligence to their thankless roles. Laurie makes David an intriguingly complex mess, while Platt has so little to do that he feels like a character from another film.

The filmmakers treat the material as if it's funny and provocative, but it's neither. For a film about illicit sex, there's barely a hint of sexuality. And for the story of a transgressive relationship, the screenplay forgets that these are adults. They all react like pre-pubescent children, only realising at the end that this is how life works: we screw things up and then just have to clean ourselves up and move forward, whatever that may mean. Throwing a tantrum might feel cathartic, but it never helps.

cert 15 themes, language 4.Oct.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall