An incredibly talented cast can sometimes redeem a weak story or cover up poor directing or writing in a film, but try as they might, even a cast this good can’t salvage The Oranges, the first feature film from television director Julian Farino, opening October 5th.
The Oranges takes place in West Orange, New Jersey, hence the title, where Vanessa, portrayed by the exquisite Alia Shawkat, plays witness to the affair of her childhood best frenemy Nina and her father, a relationship that causes her parent’s divorce, her brother’s embarrassment (he is also interested in Nina), and the shame and hurt of Nina’s parents, who happen to live across the street and be best friends with Vanessa’s parents.
After the initial shock of the affair between David (Hugh Laurie) and Nina (Leighton Meester), everybody takes turns showing how hurt and appalled they are by the affair between a married 50-something man and his best friend’s daughter, whom he has known since she was an infant. After the appropriate amount of disgust has been shown by each character, including a divine Allison Janney as Nina’s overbearing mother, and Catherine Keener as the scorned wife, we spend the rest of the movie watching the filmmaker’s try and justify all the hurt that has been caused by showing the positive effect that the trauma has had on everybody’s lives.
While I’m not so heartless as to expect that characters cannot move on or find redemption after making a mistake, it is asking a lot of the audience to cheer on a relationship between an older married man, who is in many ways a father figure to a clearly immature young woman, just because it makes everybody look at things a little bit differently.
Leighton Meester is unconvincing as Nina, who I think is supposed to come across as wise and ethereal despite being 24-years-old and throwing herself at a married man. Alia Shawkat, who is a stunningly gorgeous young woman in real life, is covered up in a silly amount of sweatshirts and high-necked flannels so as to make her seem frumpy and awkward, but who probably should have been cast in Meester’s part, and would have sold it with a lot more ease.
Adam Brody as the older brother is an under-utilized treat in the film, but Oliver Platt fumbles around with a dumb look of bewilderment for most of the film with barely enough dialogue to merit his presence on screen. Catherine Keener does what she can with some hackneyed sub-plot of finding the true meaning of Christmas by way of working with a charity. Allison Janney delights in the few bits of good dialogue, of which she has nearly all the good lines.
Poor Alia Shawkat is forced to do an unnecessary voice over that sloppily explains to the audience how we should feel at all times, but makes the best of emotional scenes, and gives us one of the films only satisfying moments when she gets into a physical altercation with Meester’s mopey Nina over a backpack she tries to throw in the garbage. Hugh Laurie’s David is an eye-roll-inducing dolt who is supposedly getting away with his actions because he’s sad and confused about life. This reviewer wasn’t buying it. Stories about breaking down boundaries and learning something new about yourself don’t have to come across this creepy.
The Oranges is being released by ATO pictures in theaters October 5.
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