The Oranges (review)

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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.

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Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Fri, Dec 07, 2012 2:13am

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.

Ugh, indeed!

I’m not quite sure why mere adultery would be that much of an improvement over near-incest. Indeed, since most people Laurie’s age would dream about having a spouse who looked like Catherine Keener, I’m not quite sure why this movie makes happiness with one’s chosen spouse seem like such an impossibility. We no longer live in the bad old days when our spouses were often chosen for us by other people.  So why such unhappiness?

reply to  Tonio Kruger
Fri, Dec 07, 2012 3:33am

fidelity and infidelity rarely have anything to do with
looks… it’s often a questions of boredom, selfishness, a feeling of being
adrift or a myriad of reason… if looks were all there were too it, it would
be very simple.  And merely because
we choose our own mates in this culture doesn’t mean everything stays the same
forever – people change, grow to want different things… have depressions, who
knows what?  However, the situation
with the girl next door is definitely squick making.  No matter the circumstance.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Fri, Dec 07, 2012 9:09am

Well, sure. What I was getting at is that it isn’t the adultery per se that is the problem with this particular story. Some good movies — some funny movies — have been made about adultery. But making a comedy out of this particular couple is just yucky.

Fri, Dec 07, 2012 3:47am

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwww….is all I have to say about this.  Also, YUCK.  I mean, I’ve liked Hugh Laurie since he showed up in Blackadder, but seriously….EEEEWWW!!!  NO!!! and certainly NOT in NEW JERSEY. 

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Surreyhill
Fri, Dec 07, 2012 9:09am

I love Huge Laurie, too. And all the rest of the cast. I don’t know what any of them were thinking.

Fri, Dec 07, 2012 9:10pm

I wonder… did the filmmakers somehow not notice the near-incest? Or is it commented on within the narrative?

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 2:14pm

I think it’s more about the broken relationships that they both had that brought them together.