Main Cast: Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Leighton Meester
Director: Julian Farino
Hugh Laurie is an interesting dude. Whether he’s doing comedy in his native England or playing the acerbic Dr. House with an uncanny American accent, he’s just fun to watch. Add in the talents of Oliver Platt, Allison Janney and Catherine Keener and you have me hooked and eager to see their indie dysfunctional family comedy/drama, The Oranges.
Sadly, I hated it. Absolutely hated it. While I could just stop there, it seems unfair not to give credit where credit is due and lambast those who wasted this amazing cast. Let’s start with a little bit of story though. The Oranges takes place in suburban New Jersey, where the Wallings and the Ostroffs have been best friends for years. David (Laurie) and Paige (Keener) Walling are going through a bit of a rough patch in their marriage as we enter their world, with quite a bit of bickering and miscommunication. They have a daughter, Vanessa (Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development) who is working in retail while she saves money by living at home until her real life in New York can start.
Terry (Platt) and Cathy (Janney) Ostroff live right across the street and the two couples are thick as thieves. They spend holidays together, watched each other’s kids grow up and generally think of each other as family. The Ostroffs have a daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester), the same age as Vanessa but her polar opposite – Nina ran off to find herself (on her parent’s dime), ignores their calls, never comes home and announces that she plans to marry the slacker she’s shacked up with – all of which give her straight laced suburban mother fits (which is exactly why she does them). When Nina gets her poor little spoiled heart broken, she shows up back home, looking, essentially, to make trouble. Her parents would love to marry her off to the Walling’s handsome son Toby (Adam Brody) but she would rather have an affair with David. Nina always gets her way.
So there’s the set-up. Spoiled brat shows up and intentionally ruins the lives of two entire families because she caught her loser boyfriend
cheating. She also does an excellent job of showing David for the fool that he is, in the midst of his stupid, irresponsible and lame mid-life crisis.
So what’s not to love, you ask? So many things, but at the core – Nina. Nina is a completely and utterly despicable character from her first moment on screen. She’s disrespectful, ungrateful, vindictive and manipulative toward parents who have done little more than try too hard to make her happy. She dumped Vanessa as her best friend in high school in order to be more popular and continues to discount not only her feelings but her standing as a human being. She willfully manipulates both Toby and David, trying to convince everyone around her that she’s simply fallen in love. When the consequences of her attempts to wreak havoc come to fruition, we’re supposed to feel at least a little sorry for her, as though she is a lost little girl who just got in over her head. Bullshit. She got exactly what she wanted and when it wasn’t fun
anymore she played the victim. David is no better – he has no respect for his wife, his daughter or his friends and is willing to follow his penis at the expense of his entire life and everyone in it.
So that’s what’s not to love. The blame here is not with the actors – they’re great. Laurie is pathetic, of course, but that’s how the character is written. Keener, Platt and Janney manage to infuse this mess with some humor and through sheer force of will and talent escalate their characters beyond caricature. Alia Shawkat does a nice job as well, perhaps being the most relatable character in the film, her honest anger and sadness a refreshing change from the revolting betrayal that surrounds her. I hated Leighton Meester as Nina, but probably because I hated Nina so much. I doubt any actress could have made that character anything but thoroughly detestable, so I can’t blame her too much.
The blame for the complete and abject failure of the movie lies completely with the script (Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss) and the direction (Julian Farino). They created this evil brat and then expected us not to hate her. They made David a moron and expected us to forgive him. Not happening, boys. Nothing that the other characters can possibly do can mitigate the complete and utter shittiness of this pair. Seeing them try to become an actual couple – nope. The consequences of their actions are extreme – for everyone but them. Who are the people writing and directing this crap thinking that it’s either funny or poignant? It’s just tawdry and disgusting and an indictment of every rotten kid who can’t forgive their parents for not giving them the moon and every stupid old man who throws his family away to chase some young pussy. And the daughter of his best friends? Who he had watched grow up? That’s gross, people.
The Oranges wastes an excellent cast on completely despicable, morally repugnant, unfunny, loathsome characters and situations. All I got out of it was a feeling of deep disgust and dismay that such talent was used so ridiculously badly. I’m generously giving The Oranges 1 star out of 5 because the cast did the best they could with the shit that passed for material. Unless you love entitled, malicious brats being allowed to destroy lives without consequence or moronic old men bedding neighbor children, avoid this piece of crap like the plague that it most certainly is.
photos by Fido and David Shankbone