Title: The Oranges
Director: Julian Farino
Writers: Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat
Runtime: 90 mins
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Hugh Laurie and Oliver Platt? You have my interest. Throw in Catherine Keeney and Allison Janney (along with young actresses Leighton Meester and Alia Shawkat) and you seem to have a solid cast on your hands. The adage goes that, with a good cast, you can mask the flaws of a subpar script. You need look no further than my Silver Linings Playbook review for evidence of that. The Oranges proves to be an exception to that rule, though.
Hugh Laurie seems to phone it in here as a middle-aged man, David, who begins an affair with a young girl, in this American Beauty rip-off (I mean come on, it even has Allison Janney in it). To make matters worse, the object of Laurie’s desire is the daughter of his friends and neighbors Teddy (Oliver Platt) and Carol (Allison Janney), Nina (Leighton Meester), who is also a childhood friend of Hugh’s daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat). With her seductive and spirited presence, Meester (along with Keeney) is one of the few shining elements of this film. The rest of the cast are competent enough in hitting their marks, but when lazy writing provides no real character depth or development, there’s only so much even accomplished actors can do. After his wife Paige (Keeney) leaves him, David continues his relationship with Nina in the open, much to the chagrin of everyone else.
The premise here isn’t that far-fetched. I mean how many times have we heard about middle-aged men getting wrapped up with young girls with daddy issues in attempts to liven up their humdrum lives? In the case of The Oranges, though, the relationship is unbelievable. Hugh and Meester lack the chemistry on-screen to convince me that they even enjoy each others company, let alone are in love as the characters claim. This brings a certain vapidity to the central drama.
The two dysfunctional families’ descent into scandal and madness should be enough fuel for a dark comedy. However, a cautious script and unimaginative direction fail to realize that potential. Content to play it safe, The Oranges lacks the edge and wit of American Beauty, never mustering a single laugh or even an ounce of dramatic tension. It’s not that The Oranges is horrible. It’s just that the script lacks the moxie to elevate the movie above a plane of mediocrity.
With its aversion to risk-taking, The Oranges turns out to merely be a batch of yellow-bellied lemons. The talented cast just doesn’t have the necessary materials to squeeze any juice out of this script and turn the sour production into lemonade. The end result is an apathetic production where the cast and crew seem to just go through the motions.