Review of The Oranges

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A romantic comedy drama about a guy who falls for the daughter of a family friend, making life just a bit awkward for himself and the family. Starring Leighton Meester, Adam Brody, Hugh Laurie & Catherine Keener.
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Movie Review: "The Oranges"

-- Rating: R (sexual references, some drug use)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2012
Directed by: Julian Farino
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

When "The Oranges" premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, it created quite a stir because it was hard to pigeonhole the film. It is part drama and part dark comedy, with a little bit of romantic comedy thrown in. Studio executives believed they would have a hard time marketing the film, so it did not get picked up for distribution despite receiving some good reviews from critics who saw a screening of the movie at the festival.

Fast forward a year, and "The Oranges" is finally seeing the light of day. Although it was filmed in 2010, it marks the first project released for Emmy-winning actor Hugh Laurie since his long-running television show "House" ended in the spring of 2012. Laurie is beloved in the film community and has proved his acting chops in both dramatic and comedic genres, making him the perfect actor to play the part of David Walling. David is stuck in suburban New Jersey in what seems like a happy marriage on the surface. He and his wife Paige (Katherine Keener) have raised a son and daughter who grew up with the daughter of their best friends across the street, Carol and Terry Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney).

The Ostroff's daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester), has not been back to her family home in over five years, so everyone is surprised when she shows up one Thanksgiving, all grown up. She has morphed into a gorgeous young woman, which everyone, including David, takes notice of. As the two families sit across the table from one another, the cracks in both marriages become evident. The boredom that all of them feel because of their mundane suburban lifestyle begins to come to light. David's boredom culminates in a flirtation with Nina that seems fairly harmless at first.

As the flirtation deepens, David and Nina engage in a full-blown affair that they try to keep secret. Believing themselves in love, they finally let the two families know, which causes the exact type of ruckus such an announcement should. Betrayed wife Paige goes through a whole range of emotions, especially due to the fact that the other woman is younger than she is. Add in the fact that she had hoped to make a romantic match between Nina and her son Tony (Adam Brody), and moviegoers can see a woman whose life has exploded like a grenade around her.

Director Julian Farino doesn't make any judgments about David and Nina's romance; he leaves that up to the audience. The result is a film that might draw different reactions from audience members based on which characters they are rooting for. It is almost like Farino is challenging the audience to use their own experiences and outlook on life to make a judgment. Viewers who believe that happiness is paramount in life might like the David-Nina relationship, while those who value honor and commitment above all else may root for David to get back together with Paige instead. This is a rare element in film, because screenwriters and directors usually try to point the audience toward a particular conclusion.

The cast is stellar across the board, especially the underrated Alia Shawkat as Vanessa Walling, David and Paige's daughter. She grew up with Nina, who was her chief rival at school after Nina stole her boyfriend. With Nina ostensibly stealing her father from her mother, she has a particularly unique viewpoint of the proceedings. This is likely why her character serves as the film's narrator, a quirky addition that is a nice touch.

Keener really wows as a wife unhinged, even going so far as to show complete, unabashed glee while running over some Christmas lawn ornaments with her car. Keener is always a reliable actress no matter what part she plays, but she shines more than usual as Paige. Laurie also turns in an excellent performance as her cheating husband. The two are fantastic when pitted against each other. Every word their characters exchange is fraught with an equal mix of love and staggering disappointment in how their lives turned out.

"The Oranges" is something of a hybrid, with darkly comic elements interspersed with high drama. With a fantastic ensemble cast and a script that has some very sharp, smart dialogue, it is easy to see why this was a favorite on the film festival circuit. Now, the rest of the world gets to see why as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5