Hugh Laurie speaks such good American that it makes more sense to cast a Brit in a film about American suburbia than an actual American. The Oranges is set in Orange Drive – a quiet street in New Jersey – and initially follows the everyday life of neighbourhood couples the Ostroffs and the Wallings along with the latter’s daughter Vanessa, the so-called “fifth wheel”. A spanner is thrown into the works of their mundane lives when the Ostroffs’ daughter Nina returns home and pursues an affair with Vanessa’s father, David.
This leads to some interesting and unconventional plots points as the affair is uncovered early on in the film and the relationship actually continues. The whole story is narrated by Vanessa who, although serving as a contrast to Nina, is mostly a pointless character. Had she been cut out of the story, the film would have remained largely unchanged. Nevertheless, Alia Shawkat (who plays Vanessa) is part of a young cast that deliver good performances, particularly Leighton Meester as Nina. They are complemented by a strong, older cast. Oliver Platt’s Terry Ostroff is a bit pathetic under the sway of his overbearing wife Cathy (played by the ever-delightful Allison Janney), but he is ultimately one of the stronger characters, despite his mild manners.
Much of the film is paint-by-numbers and it is a pity that the moments for comedy are not fully realised. With the plethora of characters and the film’s split focus between them, it comes off as an attempt at a coming-of-age tale, a family drama and a mid-life crisis saga all rolled into one. Each of these has the potential for an entire film on its own, but there is an attempt to pull these diverging threads together through its theme of happiness. This is brought across in the script and has a culminating moment in a cheesy montage of Nina and David visiting Atlantic City and frolicking on the beach. With its setting and subject matter the film aims to place suburbia under a lens. Despite this, it is reluctant to push any boundaries and with its “aw shucks” ending the realisation dawns that that the deconstruction of the white-picket fence is best left to the likes of Sam Mendes.