Release Date: 7th December 2012
Director: Julian Farino
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, Alison Janney
From The Graduate to American Beauty, suburban malaise and family dysfunction have long served as the basis for many great American movies. Unfortunately for British-born director Julian Farino, his latest comedy-drama The Oranges isn’t one of them. Despite boasting a script that once ranked on the infamous “Black List,” a compilation of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays, the film fails to provide any shrewd insights and is noticeably deficient on laughs. Even its superb all-star cast can’t stem the monotony.
The premise of The Oranges, while hardly the most original,does not necessarily signal boredom from the outset. David and Paige Walling (Laurie and Keener) and Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Platt and Janney) have lived across the street from each other for over twenty years. The best of friends, both couples do everything together and appear to enjoy perfect marriages. However, when the Ostroffs’s estranged daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) returns home and begins an affair with David, their perfect middle-class lives are suddenly sent reeling into chaos.
Undoubtedly the film’s biggest weakness is Ian Helfler and Jay Reiss’s uneven and prosaic screenplay; that this was ever considered one of the best scripts circulating round studio executives is very hard to believe. David and Nina’s relationship, for instance, is extremely under-developed considering it serves as the crux of the entire movie. Indeed, while their affair is confronted with a barrage of negative reactions, there is very little conflict between them. With a thirty-odd year age gap, this seems like a rather wasted opportunity to insert witty discernments and create much needed humour.
That said, it would be wrong to assign sole blame to Helfler and Reiss; their weak source material could hardly have been expected to flourish under Farino’s lazy direction. Coming from a mainly television background, he isn’t use to working with the larger canvas that cinema provides. Rather than making the most of onscreen space and moving his actors around the set, he often tends to keep them rooted to the same spot for several minutes. In the end, this causes many of the film’s long dialogue-driven scenes to come across as lifeless and boring.
Of course, The Oranges is not without some merit. Certainly, despite a poor script and uninspired direction, it contains some fine central performances. Hugh Laurie, in his first live-action film role since the end of House, shines as David, whilst Keener is her usual mesmerising self. Platt and Janney also make an excellent pairing, both able to perfectly oscillate between moments of comedy and drama. Yet arguably the best performance comes from Meester, who displays a subtlety and range never before seen in an episode of Gossip Girl.
Ultimately, however, a first rate cast doesn’t stop The Oranges from being a terrible film. Neither clever nor especially funny, it’s one of those annoying releases that considers itself more intellectual and amusing than it really is. Given the thematic content and December release, the producers clearly thought it had Oscar potential. In reality, even the most forgiving of audiences won’t help but find The Oranges anything other than tedious.