[Review] – The Oranges

20 Oct

Title: The Oranges
Year: 2012
Director: Julian Farino
Writers: Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener, Adam Brody, Alia Shawkat, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney
MPAA Rating: R, language including sexual references, and some drug use
Runtime: 92 min
IMDb Rating: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Metacritic: 47

To be quite honest I was really looking forward to getting to watch Julian Farino‘s The Oranges. On the one hand it had a script from first-timers Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer that topped the 2008 Black List of the hottest unproduced screenplays in Holywood . Secondly because I had actually read the screenplay a while back and I loved it and I couldn’t wait to see how it played out on screen. Thirdly, I loved the heck out of the cast that was assembled to help bring it to life, which included Adam Brody on a supporting role and I’ve been dying for half a dozen years for him to break out and become big ever since he left The O.C., the show where he played Seth Cohen, the first television character I ever related to, so maybe this would be his breakout film.

I was, however, rather disappointed by the end result. I guess I maybe could have braced myself for this, after all, on Wednesday I had watched Butter, which came third in the Black List this screenplay topped and ended up being just an awful film. But then again, I hadn’t read Butter and I had read this one, I knew this was a good screenplay. Yet, strangely enough, as I saw the film I felt like that screenplay was nowhere to be found here, that the characters all felt pretty flat and that the dramatic developments truly failed to elicit much of a response from me.

It basically goes something like this: you have the Walling clan (David and Paige, played by Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and the Ostroff clan (Terry and Cathy, played by Oliver Platt and Allison Janney), two cheery families who live on Orange Drive in the midst of the New Jersey suburbia, who just happen to be not only neighbors but also best friends. Nina, the prodigal Ostroff daughter played by Leighton Meester, hadn’t been around for half a decade and decides to come back home for Thanksgiving having just broken up with her fiancé.

Now, what The Oranges did so well in the script that I read was that I was genuinely into these characters even by that point, that I understood why both families would be super pleased if Nina ended up developing something for Toby, the son of the Walling’s played by Mr. Brody, and how for a loop it throws their lives once it’s discovered that she developed something for the wrong Walling: David. It was hilarious to see the ramifications of the affair, the older guy cheating on his wife with the daughter of their best friends; the young talented girl, rebounding form a failed engagement by hooking up with the man who had watched her grow up, the father of her childhood best friend, Vanessa, played by Alia Shawkat.

On screen here it just doesn’t work as well for some reason, I didn’t laugh as much as I did when reading the script and I didn’t care as much for what it had to say about what it really meant to be happy in life. Maybe there were changes made to the screenplay, I honestly don’t know, it’s just that it made no sense to me as I watched it that it turned out so mild, especially when you considered this dream cast it had lined up, all actors who, by the way, really were trying here to make the material work for them.

A big part of me actually started thinking that maybe this would have worked better as a television series on HBO, the network where Mr. Farino made his name directing a bunch of episodes of Entourage and How to Make it in America. That speaks well about the situation it crafts and how it’s the kind of character-driven comedy that could last for four seasons on cable and be pretty cool because you have all these neat backstories and details here that you could dive into properly, but the fact that you can see this one going on and on also speaks ill of how it failed at providing a sense of closure to the story.

Maybe that’s just it, though, maybe the story is just too much for us to really get it in 90 minutes. That’s possible after all, because you do have so much history going on here between the families, and to really show what such an eventuality would spawn between the two and how all of the different players would deal with it would take a lot of time, especially when you consider that The Oranges acknowledges that even though that was the event that got all the problems to come up, the problems in their lives were brewing from long before. So many plot lines in so little time obviously means a good deal of it will seem rather rushed.

Again, though, I keep having to say that it really didn’t read like this on the screenplay I read. It read like something that was totally developed with fully-fleshed out characters and a plot with a beginning, middle and end that included a really tangible dramatic tension informing all of the actions. I really do think a studio exec or someone meddled with it, demanded a new style or a new structure, something. You get a bit of nice farce coming through here, but for the most part it felt surprising underwritten.

There are, though, a few genuinely good things about The Oranges which is why I came very close to recommending it. Hugh Laurie, for instance, is seriously amazing as David, he lets you see why his character felt the way he did, he lets you in on the good things as well as the bad things he feels because of what he’s doing, and the scenes he shares with Leighton Meester are actually really neat and never played as a cheap joke. The Oranges has a ridiculously talented cast with a script situation that will boggle me for a while, it seemed like it didn’t risk much considering how little time it had to grow on us, which is why it just seemed destined as a serialized half-hour thing every Sunday on a cable channel. Oh well.

Grade: C+


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