Review: ‘The Oranges’ is a Good Squeeze
The Oranges is the story of two families, lifelong friends bound by history and tradition, swiftly ripped apart and forced to examine the reality of their existence. Oh, and it’s a Christmas movie.
This isn’t your average holiday fare. Set in a quaint New Jersey suburb – one that natives will quickly recognize and feel right at home in – The Oranges gets right to the point and forces everyone to deal with it. Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meester) reluctantly returns home after catching her fiancé cheating on her, bringing her free-spirited, “screw you, mom!” lifestyle to an abrupt halt. She’s home just in time for family dinner with her parents (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) and the Wallings from across the street (Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Alia Shawkat, and Adam Brody). The picture-perfect holiday dinner doesn’t last long. Though Nina’s mom, Cathy, is quick to match her up with the prodigal son from across the street, it’s David (Laurie) who catches her eye. From the moment these two look each other in the eye, it’s clear what’s going to happen.
David and Nina’s affair is ostensibly lukewarm and (thankfully) sexless. But they find in one another something that everyone seems to have been missing in their effort to maintain familial normalcy all these years. David and Nina, despite the marked weirdness, seem truly happy together. It’s a stark change from the David and Nina we meet at the start, stuck in a dead-end life based on the assumption that that’s what they should have.
The situation throws a wrench in everyone’s plans, and of course things spiral out of control from the start. David loses his best friend Terry, their daily walks cut off after the former starts sleeping with the latter’s daughter. Paige (Keener, underused) moves out and attempts to focus on her life’s passion: directing the neighborhood Christmas Carolers starting in August. Vanessa (Shawkat) navigates the stomach-turning reality of having her childhood best friend taking her mother’s place in her father’s bed. Cathy unplans the Ostroff/Walling wedding in her mind when it’s clear that Nina’s chances with Toby (Brody) are most likely dashed.
Though it’s likely the road not taken towards enlightenment, the Ostroff/Walling affair forces everyone to reexamine what it means to be happy, and whether or not that’s how they truly feel about their lot in life.
There’s a visceral discomfort in watching The Oranges, but that’s a testament to the provocative nature of the question at the heart of it. It’s no doubt helped along by stellar performances from the obviously talented cast. Oliver Platt and Allison Janney are right at home in roles they’ve played a million times over, but that’s because they’re just so very good at it. Alia Shawkat brings a witty intellect to the snarky, stagnant Vanessa, our millennial narrator. Though an unlikely pairing, Blair Waldorf and Dr. House transcend their signature roles and develop a warm and believable relationship at the heart of the film.
Everyone looks right at home in Orange, NJ, a smart, wholesome setting for the comedy of errors that ensues there. It’s well worth watching.