This weekend, my movie class had its second bonus screening with the comedy–drama, “The Oranges” featuring an ensemble cast which includes Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat and Leighton Meester.
When New Jersey neighbors have their friendship threatened after the daughter of one couple breaks up the marriage of the other, will they forever remain enemies or can they somehow manage to find a way to forgive and forget?
David & Paige Walling (Laurie & Keener) refuse to allow their moribund marriage to interfere with their long – time friendship with West Orange, New Jersey neighbors Terry & Carol Ostroff (Platt & Janney). Living right across the street from each other, they spend holidays together and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries as if they were family. In fact, The Ostroffs’ grown – up daughter Nina (Meester) was once close friends with The Wallings’ daughter, Vanessa (Shawkat) until the adventurous Nina decided to travel the world, where she eventually met Ethan, whom she announces she intends to marry and skip returning home for the holidays – both proclamations causing much consternation with her parents.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, however, Nina surprises everyone by showing up at home suddenly and confesses that she has broken off her engagement with Ethan because she caught him cheating on her. Settling in, she is dismayed to learn that Carol wants to set her up with The Wallings’ responsible adult son in the hope that she will finally settle down and start taking life a bit more seriously. But when Nina discovers that David is estranged from Paige, she sets out to flirt with him relentlessly until he eventually succumbs to her charms.
Ultimately, Carol discovers their secret affair, which not only breaks up The Walling family, but also, causes an unavoidable schism between the neighboring families. Wallowing in remorse, David informs Nina that their affair must end, but she convinces him otherwise and they wind up a couple, further infuriating an already embarrassed Vanessa, who now sees Nina as her mortal enemy. But when Ethan shocks everyone by unexpectedly showing up at their home around Christmastime, will he be able to win back Nina or will she stay with David?
This ensemble cast is a sheer pleasure to watch – with two of my favorite actresses (Keener & Janney) leading the pack. While I characterized “The Oranges” as a comedy – drama, I found that while certain scenes were most definitely played for laughs, it felt more like a drama than a comedy – in fact, more like a tragedy than a mere drama. Another reason why I say this is because despite the fact that this cast includes many actors quite adept – if not known for – their comedy skills, some of the jokes fell a bit flat, especially against the backdrop of this rather unpleasant story.
Prior to the screening, our instructor described this film as something of an anti-holiday movie – instead of one of those traditionally warm and fuzzy feel-good family flicks, “The Oranges” tended to focus on the dark side of holiday get-togethers with button-pushing family members and friends. While that’s definitely true, and there might be something of a black comedy element to the motion picture, I would have preferred to have seen it played as a straight drama. That said, however, I would quickly add that the filmmakers did an excellent job of playing all characters even-handedly – that is to say, not making any one of them out to be either a total villain or a goody-two-shoes.
Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s producer, Anthony Bregman. While the title of producer may often be rather amorphous – if not entirely ambiguous at times – Bregman said that he had a rather clear and specific idea of what his role was on almost any given production. Bregman said that he considered himself responsible for overseeing the entire process, whether it was acquiring the financing, assembling the cast, making budget decisions or supervising the post – production. Bregman’s interview was excellent in that it not merely focused on producing, but also a wide-ranging discussion on the filmmaking process in general.