TIFF Movie Review: The Oranges (2011)

The Oranges is a film that’s been on my radar for some time. In 2008 Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer’s script sat just behind The Beaver, in second place on the ever-popular Black List, a list of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The script even got a mention before the film rolled at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last night as director Julian Farino (“Entourage”) nervously told the packed house he hoped it lived up to everyone’s expectations while also telling us he only finished editing two days ago.

Farino can rest easy, he’s made a very funny film and assembled just the right cast to bring it to the big screen. It is a bit obvious he only completed editing recently as it is still a bit choppy and some of the ADR work needs a little tweaking so I am not going to comment on those aspects of the film. Those problems will most likely be fixed once it’s picked up by a distributor, and it WILL be picked up by a distributor. Fox Searchlight?

The film centers on two West Orange, New Jersey families. The Ostroff’s (Oliver Plat, Allison Janney and Leighton Meester) and the Walling’s (Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Alia Shawkat and Adam Brody) have been best friends and across-the-street neighbors for as long as they can remember. They workout together, spend holidays together and share Sunday dinner together, and with the holidays just around the corner Terry and Carol Ostroff are hoping their daughter, Nina (Meester), will finally make it home for Thanksgiving after a several-year absence.

A bit of a rebel, or “sabotager” as she’ll later be referred, Nina tells her parents she won’t make it home for the holidays this year either and on top of that she is engaged to her lowlife boyfriend Ethan (Sam Rosen). However, only minutes later Nina catches Ethan cheating on her and home to West Orange she goes.

Happy to have her, but mothering her daughter to death, Carol (Janney) begins pushing Nina into the arms of Toby (Brody), the Walling’s son who’s just arrived home for the holidays. Only problem is that while Nina and Toby are catching up, sparks begin to fly between her and Toby’s father, David (Laurie), and once those sparks begin to fly they don’t stop until everyone’s world is turned upside down. Best of all, it’s hilarious every step of the way.

Every member of this cast seems to fit right into place. Reaction shots and one-liners are perfectly delivered time and time again whether it’s Platt and Laurie staring wide-eyed with their mouths wide open or Janney delivering lines of dialogue as only she can. The moment I heard Janney say “old balls” and everything that came before it I was absolutely rolling. Alia Shawkat also gets her own share of “f–k you” moments using a variety of colorful metaphors to get her point across.

The best thing about the comedy is that while one-liners are commonplace, the film doesn’t hinge on punch lines and prat falls. The comedy is more natural in this case, hinging more on timing, and even though the film could still use a few more edits here and there, Farino has got it dialed in. Beat after beat, The Oranges had the audience laughing hard and the story never lets up.

Making it even better, it doesn’t rely too heavily on a third act “moral of the story.” The dramatic aspect of the story remains and there is a grand theme, which is an emphasis on the pursuit of happiness, but it’s a theme the story is working with the entire way. It isn’t just another studio comedy that works really hard over its first two acts to rattle off joke after joke only to get all dramatic in the final third and tie it off with a nice bow. The Oranges certainly has a resolution, but considering the nature of the two families at its core I couldn’t imagine a better way to tidy it up.

I’m sure some people will have an issue with the believability of the story, but the characters in the film embrace it fully, which is to say in this movie and in this world, we’re talking about a real situation and I was definitely on board. I would agree there were times the Laurie and Meester hook up didn’t seem quite right, but the more the film sticks with it the more it begins to fit. I could point out a metaphor here but I don’t want to act as if it’s not obvious.

As far as the finished product is concerned, the only problems remaining are those that can still be fixed with a few snips here and some polishing there. Farino and his entire cast and crew can be happy they’ve done good by Reiss and Helfer’s script and considering the duo haven’t written a script since, perhaps this will be just the film to get them more work.


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