"“Underneath the cold, disheartening story is a film that maintains an innocent and infectious joviality...”"
As we enter the festive period, naturally we anticipate a handful of Christmas-themed movies to find comfort in, over what is a very high-spirited season, and Julian Farino's The Oranges fits into this very bracket; yet unlike the traditional festive piece, The Oranges is based around the breaking up of two neighbouring families. Merry Christmas.
The Walling family – consisting of David (Hugh Laurie), Paige (Catherine Keener) and their daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat), live across the road from the Ostroffs, Terry (Oliver Platt) and Carol (Allison Janney), as two families that are not only neighbours, but the best of friends. However, as the Ostroff's prodigal daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) returns from her travels for Thanksgiving, all is about to change on Orange Drive.
Having recently broken up with fiancé Ethan (Sam Rosen), Nina is on the market, and the beguiling youngster appears to have her eyes on the Walling's returning son Toby (Adam Brody), but in a rash moment of madness, she kisses David, and suddenly the pair have a situation on their hands. Not only is David the father of Nina's oldest friend, but her own father's best friend, and entering into adultery with the man is evidently a terrible idea, but the pair unwittingly go ahead with it nonetheless, as the family’s progress into a somewhat foreboding Christmas holiday.
Despite the narrative heading down a rather soap-opera path, Farino does a fine job in avoiding melodrama, and rather than overplaying the affair and the reactions of those surrounding it, instead he takes a more pragmatic approach, and certainly one that is far more realistic, which although a positive, does feel rather peculiar given the colourful, almost cartoon like ambience to the picture.
The Oranges is a film that does continuously surprise the audience, as Farino takes a somewhat formulaic Hollywood scenario; that of an affair between a young girl and an older, married man – yet it plays around with the genre, and avoids conforming to the conventionalities of what we perceive as a romantic comedy. For example, every single character in this film is likeable, and you can't help but appreciate and comprehend everyone’s points of view. You would expect to despise Nina, and resent David – but instead you find them both empathetic and endearing, and although knowing it's wrong you aren't against their relationship as such. You want and expect to dislike them both, but you just don't.
The only character that feels underused somewhat is Vanessa, although in a sense she is employed more as a cipher: merely a means of being able to witness the entire debacle, as we watch the events unravel through her eyes. Shawkat narrates the tale also - a quite interesting move, as it's not often a mere supporting and somewhat insignificant role presents the story to the audience, but it works well.
On a more negative note, perhaps there is too much of an inclination from the writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss to tie up all loose ends and ensure that every single character reaches a point of clarification, and although it certainly helps in gaining peace of mind, it does disregard the more naturalistic elements to the film. Also, there is too little back-story between Nina and David, and given the pair have known each other for over twenty years, it would be nice to see more of a build up to their first kiss, rather than just have it sprung upon us with little rhyme or reason – while similarly it would be of benefit to see more of the faltering marriage to appreciate exactly why David feels the need to cheat.
Nonetheless, The Oranges remains an enjoyable and completely harmless piece of cinema, and a film that will take some topping as far as Christmas films are concerned this winter. It may not be entirely faithful to what is an amiable, joyous season, yet underneath the cold, disheartening story is a film that maintains an innocent and infectious joviality. This year, Christmas is orange.