Judge Daryl Loomis has but one Christmas tradition: throwing eggs at carolers.
The banality of suburban life is nothing new to the movies. As soon as we see the tract housing, manicured trees, and freshly clipped grass, we know that something is broiling underneath the surface that is about to explode. It might not be an original idea, but it can work really well if done right. Unfortunately, despite some good performances from a great cast, The Oranges is not one of those successes.
Facts of the Case
Paige and David Walling (Catherine Keener, Out of Sight; and Hugh Laurie, House, M.D.) have been friends with Carol and Terry Ostroff (Allison Janney, The West Wing; and Oliver Platt, 2012) for decades. Living across the street from each other, they've seen the trials and tribulations of life first hand, and their collective relationships are all the stronger for it. Things get complicated, however, when the Ostroff's prodigal daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester, The Roommate), returns home after a failed relationship. She and David find themselves undeniably attracted to one another and, when their budding relationship is discovered, this long lasting friendship threatens to be torn apart.
As it begins, The Oranges shows some potential, from the narration by the witty Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), who also plays the Walling's youngest daughter, Vanessa, to the introduction of the amusingly pathetic parental figures. The first fifteen or twenty minutes made me think that it might be a pleasant surprise. Fairly soon after the introduction, though, it became clear that there wasn't very much meat to the story.
It's not necessarily a bad plot and, in fact, had a fair bit of potential. The idea of a pair of families breaking apart because of a middle-aged man falling for his friend's daughter, and thoughtlessly going through with it, no less, is clear fodder for dark comedy. Director Julian Farino (Entourage) and writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss just don't seem willing to go all the way with it, instead trying to tread the line between blackness and light family comedy, and the story plainly doesn't work.
Whether they were willing to go dark enough for my tastes isn't as big a problem, though, as the way the characters are written. Of all the main roles, not a one is anything but a selfish idiot. The relationship between David and Nina isn't done badly, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. The trouble comes with everyone around them. While it's certainly icky to think about dating somebody who you knew before they were born, the way everybody else acts is ridiculous. There is nothing here but people acting selfishly.
That's all too bad, because the performances are genuinely strong across the board, no matter how odious the characters might be. Laurie and Meester have a weird sort of chemistry that works pretty well, and it's always good to see Catherine Keener, even if her character, put upon as it is, comes of very unlikable. She isn't nearly as awful as Janney's Carol, though. While the performance is certainly committed, the character is absurd and disgusting. So obsessive she is with Nina's life that she goes so far as to tail her when she goes on a date, just to see who it is after catching her daughter in a lie. Of course, it's all just a convenient way to reveal the affair, but it doesn't change how awful she appears. The only characters who aren't terrible are Vanessa and Terry. Vanessa, though, despite being the narrator, is basically inconsequential to the story and Terry, while integral, doesn't have nearly the screen time he should. Both are amusing roles that just haven't been given enough to do.
The real failure of the movie is the tone. There's this overriding message that the search for happiness is a fool's errand and that, instead, people should just accept their lot in life, regardless of their misery. If The Oranges was trying to make a comment on that attitude, the filmmakers may have had something. The story seems too convinced of its truth, especially in the way it concludes, that it comes off as just sad.
The Oranges arrives on Blu-ray from Fox in a technically good, extras deficient edition. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer looks excellent, with nice detail a strong, bright colors. Everything looks as crisp and clear as one should expect from a recent film. The 5.1 surround mix is solid, but nondescript. It's a dialog-heavy movie without much in the way of notable music or sound effects, so it does the job just fine, but without much to really gush about. Extras are limited to a pair of short, very standard featurettes about the production, which are both pretty well worthless.
Unable to go dark enough to be biting and not light enough to serve as breezy entertainment, The Oranges sits at some place in the middle where nothing can get accomplished. The strong performances buoy the film enough to keep me from hating the movie, but I can't really recommend it on any level, either.
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