Everybody needs good neighbours – The Oranges review

TheOranges1

By Richard Haridy
February 12, 2013

The Oranges is a light, inoffensive, suburban dramedy about infidelity. Despite a strong cast, it’s an empty, pointless exercise in turning an interesting story into a vanilla confection. David (Hugh Laurie) and Terry (Oliver Platt) are best friends who live across the street from each other in a movie-styled New Jersey neighbourhood. When Terry’s free spirited daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) unexpectedly returns home, their families’ balanced routines are thrust into flux. David begins an affair with Nina, causing his wife Paige (Catherine Keener) to move out.

It’s impossible to watch The Oranges without thinking of American Beauty, which explored similar issues in a profoundly more sophisticated way. Director Julian Farino (making his feature debut after a decade in TV) struggles to find a consistent tone, with his narrative bizarrely alternating between hokey comedy and genuinely uncomfortable drama. He also shoots the proceedings with a bland, sitcom-like affectlessness that gives a sad impression of cheapness. On top of all this, someone decided to throw a discordant, jaunty, 90s era soundtrack over everything. It only adds to the stylistic confusion.

TheOranges

The frustrating tonal imbalances are also rooted in a disappointingly superficial screenplay from Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer. They seem afraid to delve too deeply into this odd relationship between an older man and his best friend’s daughter. The character of Nina is irritatingly underwritten with constantly unexplained motivations that ultimately only serve to propel the plot. Leighton Meester is a charming young woman who does her best in the truly unforgiving role.

All of the actors are clearly working their hardest with the sub-par material – Allison Janney is wonderful as Terry’s wife, Laurie adds presence to his sad sack role, and I can watch the marvellous Platt in anything – but by the end I couldn’t wait for this to be over. The Oranges dabbles with transgressive ideas (for a moment it felt like the film was implying that this affair was a positive force in everyone’s lives) before retreating into stupefyingly predictable and safe rhythms. Its greatest sin is mediocrity.

2/5

The Oranges is available on DVD and Blu-ray from February 13, 2013.

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