‘The Oranges’ don’t taste as sweet as advertised

Allison Janney is an controlling mother in 'The Oranges'
Allison Janney is an controlling mother in ‘The Oranges’

The Oranges is a good idea gone wrong.

The basic idea is interesting.  Take two families that have lived next door to one another in the same suburban neighborhood (West Orange, NJ in this case).  Both have daughters the same age, and one couple also has a son.

The couples are “David” and “Paige Walling” (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and “Terry” and “Carol Ostroff” (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney).  David markets alcoholic beverages.  Paige runs the local Christmas caroling group with an iron fist.  Terry is a gadget nut who was part of the group that invented ultimate Frisbee and Carol spends her life giving her daughter “Nina” (Leighton Meester) grief whenever possible.

But it turns out that Carol doesn’t get to do that nearly as much as she might like.  Nina was the daughter who left home not long after graduating to see the world outside of the suburbs.  “Vanessa Walling”, who is the same age, had a plan to leave as well, but she’s been living at home and working locally while figuring out plan B.  Her older brother, “Toby” (Adam Brody) has a government job and did leave home, although he’s home before going off to China.

Alia Shawkat in 'The Oranges'
Alia Shawkat in ‘The Oranges’

Thanksgiving is coming up and the Ostroffs want Nina to come home for the holiday.  But when they call her to wish her a happy birthday, she makes it clear she’s not coming home and worse yet, she’s marrying her boyfriend Ethan, a pierced-lip slacker.  But she catches him cheating on her at her birthday party and is suddenly winging her way home.

Meanwhile, the Wallings are having trouble in their relationship, and one thing leads to another and we find David and Nina sharing a kiss. The kiss then turns everyone’s lives upside down.

There are a few laughs here, but not really enough to be considered a full-fledged comedy.  There’s drama here, but not enough for it to be considered a full-fledged drama either.  The result is a pastiche of a film that has some decent moments but on the whole leaves the viewer unsatisfied.  It’s like a full course meal that looks great on the menu board but when the plates of food arrive, the final product just doesn’t measure up.

It doesn’t help that the romance between Nina and David seems very forced, as Meester and Laurie have almost no chemistry at all.  It’s easy to swallow Laurie and Keener as a troubled married couple, that particular chemistry works quite well.  Platt is always strong and Janney brings the prototypical over-involved mother to life.  But good acting usually can’t save weak writing and that’s the primary problem with The Oranges.

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