A fine cast is wasted in this feeble dramedy about neighborly infidelity in suburbia, which though spanning a holiday season offers the viewer little in the way of cheer.
“The Oranges” takes its title from the setting—West Orange, New Jersey—where only a pleasant suburban street separates two close-knit families, David and Paige Ostroff (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and the Terry and Cathy Walling (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney). The couples have been for years as chummy as neighbors can be.
Their children have a more complex relationship. Pretty Nina Walling (Leighton Meester) was the childhood pal of plain Vanessa Ostroff (Alia Shawkat), but dumped her for a sharper crowd in high school. Nina’s parents always hoped that she’d link up with the Ostroffs’ ambitious son Toby (Adam Brody), but instead she’s living with a slacker named Ethan (Sam Rosen) of whom Terry and Cathy disapprove. When they call her on her birthday, she announces not only that she’s not coming home for Thanksgiving but is marrying Ethan to boot.
Nina’s plans change that same evening, however, when she discovers Ethan frolicking in bed with one of the guests at her birthday party. She abruptly returns home, and almost as swiftly seduces David, who becomes besotted with only the most negligible hint of resistance to the idea. And naturally when the others find out about their clandestine romance, all heck breaks loose. And Ethan shows up determined to woo Nina back.
“The Oranges” is devoid of serious characterization, content instead to use quirks—Terry’s obsession with the newest gadgets, Paige’s single-minded devotion to preparing her carolers for their Christmas concertizing—to provide an illusion that these are real people. So Nina is just a minx and Cathy an intrusive buttinski. The problem is especially acute in the case of David, whose motives are so utterly vague that Laurie, a fine actor under most circumstances, can do little but stumble around looking lost (which, given the script, must have been pretty easy). Shawkat is given a bit more to work with, serving as narrator as she does—she certainly overshadows a cipher like Brody’s Toby–but Vanessa’s sour personality is a drawback.
The picture doesn’t even look good, with cramped interiors and outdoor shots that, thanks to cinematographer Steven Fierberg, capture the colorless dullness of the locale all too convincingly. And when it goes for a bigger impact—in the misguided sequence in which the furious Paige destroys her wayward husband’s elaborate lawn decorations with her car—the camerawork and editing become simply chaotic. The use of tinkling Christmas tunes to accompany the action makes it all the worse.
“The Oranges” is inept enough to give even Jersey a bad name.