'The Oranges' (R)

 

This dark comedy about dysfunctional families opts for lame absurdity.

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By Connie Ogle cogle@MiamiHerald.com

The Oranges is a bizarre little film in which Hugh Laurie (House) and Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) hook up, and if you just threw up in your mouth a little bit don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. At least the filmmakers, inept at the black humor needed to pull off such a farce, are savvy enough to realize these two have zero chemistry and that the whole idea of them making out is nauseating. And thus we are spared extended unpalatable scenes.

What we are not spared is the sort of trite movie that lacks the backbone of any good dysfunctional-family comedy: a thread of the universal amid the absurdity. But instead of making a connection to any greater truth about the complexities of human relationships, The Oranges settles for platitudes about happiness and finding yourself, some mild destruction of property, the occasional off-color outburst and a happy ending for everyone. There are worse movies of the genre, but there isn’t much to recommend this one.

Set during the holidays in Orange, N.J., the film focuses on two households of lifelong neighbors, the Ostroffs (Oliver Platt, Allison Janney) and the Wallings (Laurie, Catherine Keener). The Wallings have a grown son (Adam Brody) off doing grown son things and a daughter, Vanessa (Alia Shawkat), who narrates the movie. She’s in her early 20s but still living at home, too afraid to venture out into Manhattan and pursue her dream of working for a furniture designer.

The Ostroffs also have a prodigal daughter, Nina (Meester), who hasn’t bothered to visit her parents in five years. Then her boyfriend cheats on her, and she slinks home and promptly ends up having an affair with David, her dad’s best friend (Laurie).

Laurie looks deeply uncomfortable in every scene with Meester, and well he should: Nina has no redeeming qualities beyond youth and unexceptional good looks, more than enough to attract the eye of an unhappily married man but not interesting enough to build an entire movie around. He’s better in the scenes with Platt, who plays the betrayed best friend with an air of appealing bewilderment. But you know the movie has an insurmountable problem when the two adulterers, who profess to be madly in love, don’t even seem like they want to be in the same room.

But then, The Oranges prompts many questions. Would Nina’s mom really be so intrusive and paranoid she’d tail her grown daughter to a dumpy motel? A daughter who has been partying nonstop for the past five years away from home without supervision? Would David’s wife leave the house to him and the younger woman without a fuss? Would everyone get over this interlude by the end of the holiday season? Truth is, the answers don’t much matter when a movie is this forgettable.

Cast: Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Adam Brody.

Director: Julian Furino.

Screenwriters: Ian Helfer, Jay Reiss.

Producers: Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech.

An Art Takes Over release. Running time: 90 minutes. Language including sexual references, some drug use. Playing in Miami-Dade: Aventura, Sunset; in Palm Beach: Palace.

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