It's become more than a cliche to say that the best writing is now found on the small screen, not the big screen. It's something Hollywood critics and players alike have been saying since "The Sopranos" first caught hold of viewers' imaginations. "The Oranges" should remind everyone of the limitations of television. The shorthand necessary to tell compressed stories can reveal itself to be hackneyed when even masters of the insubstantial aim to tell a bigger story.
Director Julian Farino and one of his screenwriters have spent most of their careers doing television. "The Oranges" is not a winning move to feature film. The hilarity of the male midlife crisis was tailor-made for television. Explored in the same sitcom-ready tone over 90 minutes, it feels almost offensively fantastic.
Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener play a couple living across the street from good friends, played by Allison Janney and Oliver Platt. Their kids were good friends, too, until Nina (Leighton Meester) disappeared five years ago. She returns home and promptly, conveniently takes up with her former best friend's father. It's easy to see why anyone might fall for Hugh Laurie, but this film never goes deeper than that sort of consideration.
|2 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener|
|Director: Julian Farino|
|Rated: R for language including sexual references and some drug use|
|Running time: 90 minutes|
These are some of the most interesting actors of their generation -- Keener and Platt are terribly underused -- but it feels like Farino doesn't know what to do with them. Or doesn't care. This is another story of suburban strife under a placid-seeming surface. These characters have become by now mere archetypes. Even an actor as talented as Laurie can't turn this two-dimensional stereotype into a living, breathing human being.
"The Oranges" will, no doubt, be compared with "The Graduate." It has none of the earlier film's urgency. There are some good scenes here -- enough to string together a satisfying sitcom episode, perhaps. Keener, in particular, deserves better than to be stuck playing another boring and bored suburban wife and mother. The big screen is for big stories -- or small stories writ large. "The Oranges" is not even a small story. It doesn't really have much to do with distinctive characters at all.