FILM REVIEW: The Oranges (15)

If such a thing as a functional, loving and contented family exists in the modern age, it seldom graces the big screen.

Film-makers delight in the petty jealousies, idiosyncrasies and intergenerational conflicts that reduce kith and kin to snarling adversaries in the blink of an eye.

So it is in The Oranges, a bittersweet comedy of suburban malaise which examines the fallout of a May-December romance between members of two neighbouring families in a leafy New Jersey community.

American Beauty traversed some of the same territory, with sharper wit and style, but Julian Farino’s film delivers a few riotous interludes, such as a furious wife destroying the outdoor Christmas decorations on her cheating spouse’s front lawn by running them over in her car.

Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer’s script boasts a smattering of delicious one-liners (“When you’re a parent one day, you’ll know what it’s like for your child to hate you!”) and solid performances from the ensemble cast.

However, we’ve witnessed these painful trials and tribulations countless times before.

David Walling (Hugh Laurie) and his wife Paige (Catherine Keener) live on Orange Drive in New Jersey opposite their best friends, Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Oliver Platt, Allison Janney).

There is a deep bond between the two clans and lots of emotional baggage between David and Paige’s son Toby (Adam Brody) and daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) and Terry and Cathy’s daughter Nina (Leighton Meester).

As Thanksgiving beckons, the tranquillity of Orange Drive is shattered by the return of Nina after a five-year absence following an emotionally bruising break-up from her fiance Ethan (Sam Rosen).

Cathy is delighted, having strongly opposed the nuptials, believing that her daughter would be a perfect match for Toby.

“People get married at 17,” snaps Nina.

“Not white girls from New Jersey,” replies her mother tersely.

Unexpectedly, Nina sparks an affair with David, which is eventually exposed.

“If it makes us happy, why do we have to stop?” David asks his loved ones as the two families ponder the consequences of this betrayal.

The Oranges rests heavily on the shoulders of the cast and they confidently flesh out the feuding clans.

Laurie and Keener exude the air of weariness of a couple who have been stuck in a rut for years, and Janney airs another sniping matriarch from her cluttered repertoire.

Shawkat, who narrates, is poorly served, while Meester attempts to retain sympathy for her home wrecker, even when Nina is cheekily informing her mother, “You were the one who told me to find a man, not a boy.”

Having wrought total emotional devastation at the end of the first hour, the screenwriters feel an urge to repair as much damage as possible by the end credits, which strains credibility.

Some wounds are too deep to salve with tears and platitudes.


Released: December 7 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas), 90 mins