out of Five
Running time: 90
Engaging dysfunctional family comedy-drama with terrific performances from a superb ensemble cast, though it's not quite as edgy as it should have been.
What's it all about?
Directed by Julian Farino (Entourage), The Oranges is set in West Orange, New Jersey and stars Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener as unhappily married couple David and Paige Walling, whose misfit daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) still lives at home. The Wallings live next door to their best friends, Terry and Carol Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) and when their beautiful twenty-something daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) returns home after a bad break-up, she finds herself falling for David and the two begin an affair that threatens to break up both families.
The performances are excellent. Leighton Meester must have seemed like risky casting on paper, given her high profile screen persona as frosty Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, but she's a revelation here, delivering a warm, sweet-natured and convincing performance that ensures her character remains sympathetic, even while embarking on an affair with her friend's father. Hugh Laurie, in turn, is charming and likeable as David and there's sufficient chemistry between the two to believably sell their relationship, not least because they both look genuinely happy in their scenes together.
There's also terrific comic support from the always-reliable Oliver Platt and Allison Janney (who share the film's best lines), while Keener is superb as Paige, even if her character is given rather short shrift by the script. On top of that, the dialogue is decent throughout and Farino finds some surprisingly emotional moments in unexpected places, most notably in the friendship between Platt and Laurie's characters.
The main problem with the film is that, having established a taboo-breaking romantic relationship that we actually root for, it then pulls back from going any further and ultimately lacks edge; for example, we never see Nina and David in bed together (a scene was shot, but got cut), which would have highlighted the awkwardness of the relationship in an interesting way. Similarly, the film also opts for a disappointingly conventional ending and fails to exploit any of the more interesting ideas thrown up by the script (such as Terry angrily suggesting to David that he should sleep with Vanessa in revenge, at which point you realise the rich comic possibilities of a relationship between Platt and Shawkat).
In addition, the device of having the film narrated by Vanessa doesn't really work, partly because her character isn't really privy to everything that goes on in the film and partly because the narration sets up expectations that Vanessa will be a main character and Shawkat (a hugely underrated comic actress) then ends up being regrettably side-lined for the majority of the film.
The Oranges is an entertaining comedy-drama that's worth seeing for the performances from its superb ensemble cast, though it's a shame the script doesn't quite deliver on the edginess of its potential.