The Oranges (film)
|Directed by||Julian Farino|
|Narrated by||Alia Shawkat|
|Distributed by||ATO Pictures|
The Oranges is a 2011 American romantic comedy-drama directed by Julian Farino and starring Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, and Adam Brody. The film chronicles how two families deal with a scandal involving a married man and his friends' daughter. Set in The Oranges area of Essex County, New Jersey, The Oranges was primarily filmed in New Rochelle, New York. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2011, and was released in the United States on October 5, 2012, by ATO Pictures. The film received mixed reviews upon its release.
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The story is narrated from the perspective of aspiring furniture designer Vanessa Walling (Shawkat), whose plan to stay at home for a few months after college has turned into years. She makes up increasingly stupid reasons why she does not like all the apartments that her mother and colleagues find online for her.
She witnesses the heartache between her parents, David and Paige Walling, (Laurie and Keener) as their relationship falls apart from years from sleeping in separate beds and pretending to be happy. Their best friends, Terry and Cathy Ostroff, (Platt and Janney) live across the street in their suburb of West Orange, New Jersey. The friendship between the two men is so predictable you could "set your clock by it". This all changes, however, when prodigal 24-year-old daughter, Nina Ostroff, (Meester), returns from a 5 year absence after her fiance, Ethan, disliked by her parents, dumped her.
Nina and Vanessa had been childhood best friends before Nina moved on to new friends during high school, and Vanessa is unhappy to see her back. However, both sets of families (at least the mothers) would like to see newly-single Nina and jet-setting son Toby Walling (Brody) form a relationship, and Cathy is excited when the Toby and Nina go to the basement together after their Thanksgiving meal. Despite flirtatious back-and-forth, Toby falls asleep after drinking, leaving Nina alone in the house. She goes to find David in the pool house where he said he was watching "late night TV", and they sit together briefly, watching a Korean basketball game. There is a chemistry between them, and they share a kiss before David pulls away.
The next day, Toby goes to the Ostroff house to drop off a sweater Nina left behind the night before. Cathy is keen to hear what went on, but Nina is less inclined to gossip. Toby invites her to dinner at the Walling house that night in order to spend more time with her. After playing a family board game, David says he'll go out and get a movie, and Nina offers to join him, and whilst driving to collect the movie, and having just stated that "last night was a mistake", they kiss again.
No one is aware of the budding relationship between David and Nina until Cathy follows Nina to a motel after she said she was going out with Toby, whom Cathy discovers had already left for Washington DC that morning. Cathy finds Nina at the motel, and literally bumps into David as he's bringing ice to the room. She puts the pieces together and deduces that David and Nina are at the motel together.
Then, the meltdown of both families begins. Vanessa witnesses the resulting fight between her parents who have slept in separate bedrooms for years, pretending to be happy. Paige moves out to the only B & B in town, leaving David to wallow. The relationship between David and Terry is strained and they don't take their usual morning jogs together. The relationship between David and Vanessa is strained too. David and Nina don't see each other until they meet for coffee some weeks later. Nina still has feelings for David and asks him if he is happy. Then, she asks him that if there were no rules, would he lean across the table and kiss her, and he says yes. They leave the cafe and get into David's car, saying they have 51 hours before he has to be back at work, and they head off to Atlantic city, where they gamble, go to the beach and have an awkward encounter with one of David's colleague and his wife. They discover that their relationship is real, and they truly have feelings for each other.
When they get back from Atlantic city, they gather all members of both families (minus Toby, who is in China) in the lounge and announce that they are in a relationship. This causes conflict between all parties, especially Vanessa, who asks her father "if you had to fuck someone half your age, why did it have to be her?". Nina moves in with high school friend Meredith. Upon finding Nina's bag in her house, Vanessa takes it and is seen walking towards a garbage truck when Nina pulls up in her car, demanding to know what Vanessa is doing with her bag. The two struggle over the bag, resulting in Vanessa getting a head injury and being treated by Terry, who has a heart-to-heart with her about the situation.
A few days before Christmas eve, Ethan shows up outside David's house, begging Nina to take him back. He first goes to the Ostroff's house across the street where Cathy gives him a set of keys. He lets himself in David's house and hears Nina telling David that she loves him. After asking Ethan to leave multiple times, David forcefully removes him and throws him on the lawn. Toby arrives home for Christmas from China.
Ethan stays outside David's house until Christmas eve, when Paige shows up in her car. They briefly talk before Paige drives her car into the Christmas ornaments in David's front yard after noticing her former caroling group. When David comes out to stop her, she chases him in her car knocking down the ornaments. Everyone runs into David's house. Toby, still shocked about the news, gives everyone gifts from China. David makes a short speech that Paige finishes. Vanessa breaks down crying. Nina apologizes to Paige who reacts violently.
Later that evening, David finds Nina upset, and they talk about running away to Mexico, but Nina asks "but what then, David?" to which he has no reply. Vanessa narrates, explaining that Nina broke up with everyone that night. She is seen talking to a put-out Ethan after leaving David in the house. Next, Vanessa is seen moving into a tiny apartment in Manhattan, her dream since she was young. She continues and says that Nina traveled around Europe before getting a job as a chef in Rome, and a 'Greetings from Rome' postcard is shown on Cathy's fridge. Vanessa explains that what happened at Christmastime was important for everyone.
— Meester on David and Nina's relationship
The script, written by Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer, appeared on 2008's Black List of best unproduced work; that list also featured The Beaver and Inglourious Basterds. Reiss and Helfer wrote the spec script, which is inspired by a story they heard from friends, during the Writers Guild of America strike. The film marks Julian Farino's debut as motion picture director; he had previously directed episodes of Entourage.
Richard Gere's agent Ed Limato called Farino to tell him Gere was interested in the script, but Farino wanted only Hugh Laurie to play the role of David because he had "that innate decency that could carry this thing". On February 8, 2010, Laurie was reported to be in talks to play his first feature lead role. Leighton Meester and Mila Kunis were also said to join the cast as his love interest. On February 28, it was confirmed that Meester had won the role over Kunis, while Adam Brody, Alia Shawkat, Catherine Keener and Allison Janney were all in negotiations.
Meester and Laurie had previously worked together when she guest-starred in two episodes of House, which had plot developments somewhat similar to the storyline of The Oranges. In the 2006 House episode "Lines in the Sand", Meester's character is a 17-year-old who relentlessly pursues Laurie's "Dr. House" character, flirting with him and insisting that they should have sex— he eventually diagnoses that a fungal spore in her brain has resulted in her loss of inhibition and judgement. Farino knew Meester from Entourage where he directed her in the show's first season. He approached her while she was in the dressing room, preparing for a Gossip Girl episode shooting, and they made a "rushed audition". About her role, Meester said: "It’s a complete 180-degree turn from anything I’ve ever done. This fulfills something within myself that I could never find in my series [Gossip Girl]." Even though Alia Shawkat's name was the first mentioned by the casting director, Farino met with a lot of actresses for the role of Vanessa. Shawkat met Farino a year before she auditioned where he told her that they were considering Ellen Page for the part. After Page turned it down, Shawkat auditioned twice and was cast. Allison Janney and Olvier Platt had also worked together before in the television series The West Wing, while Catherine Keener and Platt had starred in the movie Please Give.
The ending was rewritten before shooting. During filming, Laurie, Meester, Janney, Platt, and Brody shared a house together. While the film is set in the fall, from Thanksgiving to Christmas in New Jersey, principal filmography started at the end of March 2010 in the upscale Beechmont section of New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York and lasted 29 days. Scenes were also shot in the neighboring Westchester communities of Mamaroneck and Bronxville, as well as the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The film was shot with Red cameras. The narration was provided by Shawkat's character Vanessa whose voice-over was recorded in post-production during the editing of the film. ATO Pictures acquired the rights of distribution in September 2011.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2011 and opened the Montclair Film Festival on May 1, 2012. It received a limited release in the United States on October 5, 2012, being screened in 110 theaters. The film was released in the UK on December 7, 2012.
The Oranges received mixed reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 32% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 69 reviews, with an average score of 4.9 out of 10. The site's consensus is: "Despite the efforts of its accomplished cast, The Oranges suffers from a mediocre script that fails to deliver well-rounded characters, dramatic tension, or sufficient laughs." On Metacritic it has a weighted score of 46 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "Mixed to Average Reviews".
Giving it 3 stars out of 4, Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times wrote highly of The Oranges, calling it "a superbly cast dark comedy; it's a familiar story made fresh by actors who know how to make each breath matter." She found the film funny. The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle said that despite feeling sometimes "inauthentic," the film "breaks formula; its concerns are not the usual movie concerns, and it takes what might have been a standard plot in some unexpected directions. [...] The film just examines the interpersonal dynamics in an honest way. This leads to conflicts but also to unexpected and effective moments of tenderness between various characters." He wrote that Laurie and Platt "stand out" because of the good writing of their characters and that Meester embodies well the 24-year-old. Rafer Guzman of Newsday gave the film a 2-star rating out of 4 and wrote: "The Oranges hits and misses at random. Meester's Nina is absolutely radiant, but Laurie's David is a dour dullard. There are some genuinely moving moments, but the mayhem-in-suburbia slapstick falls flat. The film is certainly unpredictable, but that's partly because it doesn't know its own mind."
The Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips described the film as "a comedy rueful but tidy and safe," which sparked not much interest in him, and added that it is "a placid tale of impulses running wild." He, however, deemed the ensemble "excellent." The Star-Ledger's writer Stephen Witty said that the film "has a few good lines, and a fine cast." He thought that Laurie was "particularly good," Keener amusing and Platt charming, but expected more of the film: "You want something that plays a little sharper, and cuts a little deeper. You want something that demands more of its performers, and delivers more to its audience." Similarly, New York Post's Lou Lumenick wrote: "While there are laughs, the farcical elements of The Oranges are not presented with sufficient discipline to live up to the full potential of its cast." The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney praised members of the cast "who manage to hit a sweet spot even in this mediocre material," noting that the film "runs out of juice" when it becomes serious and that the film's "cathartic moments feel fabricated" and concluded that the cast "deserves better."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times said the film's problem is that its creators did not decide what genre The Oranges would be; "a dangerous comic satire or a serious dramatic downer," and instead made "a wishy-washy middle ground. As comedy, it isn’t funny; as serious drama, it lacks a moral and emotional center." Despite Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) "the most interesting character" praising her "sardonic perspective," the Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote that the film "never fully comes to life." While Entertainment Weekly reviewer Owen Gleiberman found Meester "charming," The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan felt that lightness and brightness were missing from her performance and that she took the film too seriously.
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