I should be a millionaire right now. Thirty-five minutes into this purported suburban romantic comedy, I muttered to my companion, “I’ll bet you a million dollars this movie was written by a couple of middle-aged guys.”
Fifty-five long minutes later the movie was finally over and there were the writer credits: Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss. I don’t know anything about them but I do know this: they don’t think much of women (mother issues, big time) and they aren’t too clear about the definitions of either “romantic” or “comedy.” Anyway, I called it and I want my money. At least the million dollars would make me feel better about 91 minutes of my life wasted on The Oranges.
So here’s the deal: there are these two families who live across the street from one another in identical white Colonial houses in a pleasant tree-lined neighborhood in West Orange, NJ. The couples (Allison Janney and Oliver Platt are the Ostroffs, Katherine Keener and Hugh Laurie are the Wallings) are best friends who do everything together, including jogging, weekends and holidays. They have children close in age. They live the perfect lives.
You’ve seen enough of these suburban take-downs to know that everything—yes, EVERYTHING—is a lie. A fucking lie. American Beauty has nothing on this movie.
To start with—okay, mostly—the problem is the women. Take my wife, please—amIright? Carol Ostroff (Janney) is your typical uptight, bitter, pushy, insensitive harridan who’s hard on everyone and frowns so hard when her husband leaves clothes on the floor that you’d think she just got hit with an aneurysm. Kind of the Annette Bening character in American Beauty but without the verve. All the bitch does is nag and criticize, know what I mean? No wonder her beautiful young daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) was forced to flee to the ends of the earth to get away from her.
You think that’s bad, Keener’s Paige Walling is a trip—your typical Christmas-obsessed control freak who thinks Black Friday is a “communal Christmasy experience” that’s “beautiful” and runs an excruciating carol singing group that begins rehearsals in August. This broad, sloppy writing isn’t comedy, parody or satire. It’s more like a cry for help.
Speaking of broad, Oliver Platt actually says the line “Who knew two families could get this close?” You’re no dummy. Cue disaster.
In walks beautiful daughter Nina, who hasn’t been back to NJ in five years. There’s the Walling’s handsome, successful young son Toby, played by Adam Brody. But in a slick piece of male wish-fulfillment, she homes in instead on Toby’s father, the innocent David Walling (Hugh Laurie), and will not let him go. Believe me, he tries, he goggles his googly eyes, he tries to be honorable, but she chases him relentlessly until he has to give in. That’s the way it almost always is in these man falls in love with friends’ daughter scenarios, you know.
But it’s not the scenario that’s shocking. What’s shocking is the cardboard stereotypes, the paint-by-numbers storyline that’s determined to make all players look foolish, and seeing such talented and likable comic actors wasted in these hackneyed roles and astonishingly stale, untruthful dialogue. I really don’t get it. Are they desperate for projects? Poor Alia Shawkat, who was so great in Arrested Development, is wasted here as the Walling’s daughter Vanessa, whose sole purpose is to serve as the fearful, envious foil for the life-embracing (i.e. old man-embracing) Nina. Oh and for comic relief/wisdom, there’s an Asian character with a ridiculously heavy accent who spouts proverbs that conveniently affirm all the bull the screenwriters throw our way.
The only thing farcical about this movie is the disdain its writers have for anything genuine, while congratulating themselves on the “genuineness” of their script’s cheap shots, unrealistic moments and unearned resolutions. The Oranges abounds in cynicism and stupidity, but very little juice.