Monday, October 1, 2012

Julian Farino/Ian Helfer/Jay Reiss' THE ORANGES: so good it seems European

How do you properly market a "family" film as good, intelligent and different as is THE ORANGES? Especially when neither the movie's title (which simply tells us that part of New Jersey in which the action is said to be set) nor its poster art and copy have much to recommend them. And yet this film itself is quite wonderful.

Why? Because its attitude is so, well, European. By that I mean grown-up, as though the filmmakers (who include the director, Julian Farino, shown at right, and screen-writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss) have been around the humanity block a few times and know whereof they speak. Their movie has to do with two sets of families -- neighbors whose kids kids have been friends since practically birth -- and the various friendships, couplings and uncouplings that take place over a certain course of time. Their movie also has to do with happiness and how this "h" word fits into the rest of our lives (and our responsibilities).

The movie is never judgmental but it also never lets its characters off the hook. They get away with nothing and pay for everything. Actions have consequences here. The characters learn this, and we watch them do it. Best of all, the unfolding never becomes phony or full of unduly cheap laughs. Instead it is graceful and honest, alternately funny and sad, and sometimes surprising, too.

You could not ask for a better cast, with each performer used wisely and well. Beginning with Alia Shawkat (above) who plays the angriest family member, a girl just beyond her teens who has never been quite as pretty or popular... her ex-best-friend from across the street (Leighton Meester, above, as a young lady who is having big trouble finding herself).

As for the two sets of parents, Meester's are played by Oliver Platt and Allison Janney (above, with Ms Janney on the right),

while Ms. Shawkat's progenitors are essayed by Hugh Laurie (at right) and Catherine Keener (below, left). Three of the above actors are always expert (not being a TV watcher, I know much less about Mr. Laurie's nine-year career on House), and they are as good here as they've ever been. (Laurie's fine, too, in a particularly tricky role.)  Mr. Platt, who last year played opposite Keener in Please Give, is wonderfully funny and always real, and Ms Janney gives us what is fast becoming her special schtick -- officious and brittle with a heart long buried -- about as well as it can be done.

Ms Keener has maybe the best role here, and she is dazzling, never more so than when she finally takes her sudden revenge. This actress has the ability to register all kinds of feelings, almost, it seems, at the same moment. In doing this, she keeps us beautifully off-balance, while giving herself quite the acting workout. And yet the work never shows. It's all part of this quite under-sung and delightful actress' repertoire.

Shawkat has a sibling, too (played by Adam Brody, below), who has a wonderful scene with Meester, early on. Brody is such a good actor (see Death in Love and Damsels in Distress for two more examples) that my one disappointment with this movie is that he was not used a bit more.

That's a minor quibble. The Oranges is finally so smart but unshowy and so much fun that I can recommend it wholeheartedly. From ATO Pictures -- this film is my favorite of everything this new distribution company has so far released -- the movie opens this Friday, October 5,  in major cities (often at several theaters in each) all across the country. To see a complete listing of cities and theaters, simply click here.

No comments: