Perhaps The Oranges, the new ensemble comedy directed by Julian Farino, would’ve been more biting and insightful if someone like Woody Allen or David O. Russell had written it. As it is, Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss’s screenplay sets up a killer premise but can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. The cast, led by House’s Hugh Laurie and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, is easily the film’s strongest asset.
David and Paige Walling (Laurie and Catherine Keener, respectively) have an unfulfilling, sexless marriage. Their adult daughter Vanessa (Shawkat) is a 20-something pothead who can’t seem to get her graphic design career off the ground. Across the street lives the Ostroff family. Terry (Oliver Platt) and Cathy (Allison Janney) are the Wallings’ best friends. Their free-spirited daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) was once Vanessa’s best friend, but Nina became popular with boys while Vanessa became something of a wallflower.
What sets the plot in motion is a mutual moment of weakness between David and Nina that leads to a kiss. It initially stops there, with David quickly realizing he shouldn’t be making out with his best friend’s daughter (even though she is 24, after all). But the fuse has been lit and there’s no stopping their lustful desires. Soon, David and Nina are covertly meeting at a seedy motel and Nina’s mom Cathy catches them before the affair can be consummated.
With the cat out of the bag, it is fun watching the various characters squirm uncomfortably as they come to terms with this unusual scenario. Because David’s relationship with his wife has been on such rocky ground, he decides there’s nothing wrong with having some fun with Nina. The problems with the film begin as the tone gradually turns farcical. While things never go insanely over the top, it seems director Farino couldn’t decide whether to maintain a realistic tone or let it drift into broad comedy. Again, I can’t overemphasize the contributions of the skilled cast, especially Shawkat. Her character provides droll, detached narration throughout, but her eventual heartbreak and confusion as she watches her family implode is palpable.
The Oranges is further evidence of the increasingly commonplace standard of excellence we’ve come to expect from the Blu-ray format. There’s little to say other than to acknowledge the sharp, detailed 1080p transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack presents clear dialogue, vitally important for such a talky film. I did note particularly strong LFE presence during sections of the folky acoustic score by Klaus Badelt and Andrew Raiher. Otherwise, this was not an especially interesting mix but there’s nothing wrong with it. Light on supplements, all we find on this Blu-ray are three short featurettes. These are all of the typically promotional, EPK variety that really offers little reason to even watch. The package does, however, include a standard DVD and Digital Copy.
As direct-to-video films go, The Oranges (a perplexingly vague title, by the way, that derives from the street the two families live on — Orange Drive) gets a pass based on the appeal of its cast. It presents an interesting, enticing set-up but never really delivers on its potential.