By Michael Phillips, Tribune Newspapers critic
2:53 PM EDT, October 4, 2012
In "The Oranges," each time someone on screen is about to tip into dangerous sexual territory or wrestle with complicated, painful feelings, along comes the musical score by Klaus Badelt and Andrew Raiher to remind us we're watching a comedy — a rueful one, but tidy and safe. The music pats us on the arm: No real harm will come to anyone. No need to fret.
And hard to get terribly interested either. A diffident story of controversial love (OMG! I'm sleeping with my oldest frenemy's dad!) as lived, and judged, in suburban New Jersey by suburban New Jerseyites, "The Oranges" features an excellent cast toning up a screenplay by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss.
It's a tale of two families living across the jogger-friendly street from each other. On this side: Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener as the parents whose marriage has begun to fray. Daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat of "Arrested Development"), all snark and insecurity, was once good pals with Nina (Leighton Meester, of "Gossip Girl"), whose folks are played by those crafty scene thieves Oliver Platt and Allison Janney. To Vanessa, Nina has become a symbol of free spirits and brave new worlds, while Vanessa is still looking for work, looking to get out of her folks' place, looking, looking, looking.
The primary narrative hiccup in "The Oranges" occurs when Laurie's character and Meester's embark on an affair. She's half his age. Underreaction from some, followed by delayed overreaction from others and the slapstick destruction of yuletide lawn ornaments, is the name of the game in director Julian Farino's film.
Even with the disruptions to various lives, "The Oranges" maintains an even keel and a pleasant if indistinct rhythm. The result is a placid tale of impulses running wild. Farino is a smooth operator, but he puts little on screen that feels like life, as opposed to a middle-of-the-road indie.
'The Oranges' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for language, including sexual references, and some drug use)
Running time: 1:32
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