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Oranges, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Could use a little more pulp."
3 stars

"The Oranges" isn't bad as "stripping the sheen from suburbia" movies go. It's just kind of lazy, apparently satisfied enough with the number of jokes that get a chuckle to let a talented cast coast as things amble on toward a soft ending. Those who dislike it will probably disdain it for its premise, while most will likely just forget it quickly enough.

After all, the characters at the center seem standard enough in two families that live across the street from each other in West Orange, New Jersey (or is it East Orange? doesn't matter). David Walling (Hugh Laurie) and Terry Ostroff (Oliver Platt) are best friends, and have been for a long time; David's wife Paige (Catherine Keener) and Terry's wife Carol (Alison Janney) are close as well. Daughters Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) and Nina (Leighton Meester) were too, until high school. Nina has been living on the west coast for a while, but a bad breakup sends her home for Thanksgiving, and her mother Carol is eager to set her up with Toby Walling (Adam Brody). And while Toby's nice and all, it's his father that winds up connecting with Nina.

Give a lot of credit to Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester - this is a particularly discomfiting May-December romance, and it would be easy for these two characters to come off as nothing but selfish or oblivious to others' feelings. They are, of course, but Laurie and Meester also play the characters with enough overlapping areas of charm and self-awareness that the audience can believe that this guy and that girl are going to see something in each other rather than it being a cynical matter of the universe throwing a pretty blonde half his age at a guy whose marriage is on the rocks. Hugh Laurie, especially, manages to takes the moments meant to show that David is old and smart enough to know better and still come out not looking like an ogre.

Of course, it helps that director Julian Farino doesn't spend much time showing them intimate, so even though the audience knows they're getting it on, not actually seeing David in bed with the girl half his age who is practically family keeps some of the stronger reactions at bay. He and screenwriters Ian Helfer & Jay Reiss pull their punches in a number of ways, and on the one hand, it's a wholly reasonable decision; they've chosen to play the story more as farce than melodrama. And while some of the farce works - one character being out of the loop when appearing in the last act is as funny as it is admittedly unlikely - it might work even better if more dramatic elements weren't set up earlier, or the filmmakers found ways to give everyone something funny to do before slapping the audience in the face with how folks really feel. Alia Shawkat, for instance, winds up tremendously underused, despite being the narrator and potentially being the one with the closest ties to both David and Nina; the filmmakers wind up just pushing Vanessa off to the side until they need her to act out.

Other things feel poorly thought-out, especially considering that this was apparently a much-lauded script at one point. For instance, there's plenty of what seems like an attempt at anti-consumer commentary, not because the filmmakers have anything in particular to say about it, but almost because it's expected from stories about middle-class white people in suburbia. The story also sees unnaturally packed in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with events that seem like they should be spread out more instead happening within days of each other.

And for as much as Laurie and Meester are able to present surprisingly well-rounded characters, the rest of the cast isn't in such a great position. Oliver Platt and Catherine Keener find their characters almost more fleshed out by the narration than their performance. Alia Shawkat and Adam Brody do okay when the script gives them a chance, but that's not often enough. Allison Janney seldom finds the spot where Carol is either sympathetic or at least funny in her overbearingness. Boyd Holbrook, meanwhile, actually manages to sell the gags he's given in large part by playing loose in contrast to most of the rest of the cast.

There's enough good jokes sold fairly well, a generally sincere feel, and a workable enough (if very safe) ending, so the movie seldom seems terribly disappointing during its quick ninety minutes on screen. The problems won't likely leap to mind unbidden afterward, but that's just as much for being forgettable as for being pleasant.

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originally posted: 10/05/12 13:51:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2012 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 San Diego Film Festival For more in the 2012 San Diego Film Festival series, click here.

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  05-Oct-2012 (R)
  DVD: 07-May-2013


  DVD: 21-May-2013

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