The Oranges (review)

The Oranes red light Oliver Platt Hugh Laurie Alia Shawkat

I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): hate the trailer

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’m not sure a better cast has ever gone more ickily astray than in this most misbegotten of dramedies. At least, I think there are meant to be comedic elements in this oh-so-wrong tale of infidelity, infelicity, and impropriety… I’m just not sure I see it myself. David Walling (Hugh Laurie: Arthur Christmas) and Terry Ostroff (Oliver Platt: X-Men: First Class) are best friends whose lives are so intimately intertwined that they’ve lived across the street from each other in West Orange, New Jersey, for more than 20 years. Their wives — respectively, Paige (Catherine Keener: Trust) and Carol (Allison Janney: The Help) — are now also best friends; their kids grew up together; they spend holidays together. Such as this Thanksgiving, when 20something ne’er-do-well Ostroff daughter Nina (Leighton Meester: Country Strong) returns home after years away, and after personal disaster strikes, tail between her legs — as Walling daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat: Ruby Sparks) notes with glee — and proceeds to embark upon an affair with David. Who is, remember, only the barest remove from her own father. Who should, observe, see her as barely distinguished from his own daughter. Ewww eww ewww. These two families are so close they could be seen as one family — indeed, I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was married to whom and which kids, also including Adam Brody’s (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) Toby Walling, belonged to whom, they’re all so chummy — and the film is consumed with the upheaval among them in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as David and Nina stubbornly continue their affair while everyone else indulges in a well-deserved nervous breakdown brought on by their incredibly selfish behavior. Here’s the real kicker, though: The Oranges manages, disgustingly, to make the pursuit of happiness seem wrong and egotistical, when of course that doesn’t have to be the case. When Paige insists that life is “not about being happy,” I don’t know what to make of that… that neither does the film. It’s pathetic that anyone would think that life shouldn’t be about being happy… and it’s pathetic than any screenwriters — here, TV vet Ian Helfer and newbie Jay Reiss — would craft a story that frames happiness as being obtainable via near-incest. David could have had an affair with a woman closer to his own age, and to whom he wasn’t practically related, which could have been a perfectly fine basis for exploring the notion of pursuing happiness when one’s life is in a rut… but that’s not “sexy” enough, I guess. Ugh.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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