Fans of US television will be well served by The Oranges - between House's Hugh Laurie, Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester, The OC's Adam Brody, Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat and The West Wing's Allison Janney - but fans of American Beauty-style suburban satire may emerge less satisfied.
Laurie plays David, a 50-something in midlife crisis who falls for the rebellious daughter (Meester) of his long-time best friend (Oliver Platt). Adding an extra wrinkle of awkwardness to the domestic farce is the fact that the two families live across the road from each other, and the affair is the catalyst for a series of uncomfortable revelations in both households.
An opening voiceover implies that Shawkat's languid college grad Vanessa will be our narrator and viewpoint on the increasingly chaotic family drama, but she's forgotten about for such lengthy chunks of the narrative that using her journey as a framing device feels forced. It's one of many structural script quirks that undermine what might otherwise have been a caustic, convincing gem.
The dialogue's much saltier and sharper than you expect from a drama that's essentially playing it safe, while Laurie and Meester bring a surprising amount of soul to their May-October romance. Meester's got form when it comes to bringing vulnerability to what could otherwise be shallow bitch roles, while Laurie could spend the entire film dry-walling and still be a compelling presence. But an unforgivable 'frolicking on the beach' sequence undoes much of the good work that's done on their dynamic.
The Oranges never dares to be as dark or as truthful as it occasionally hints - the third act snowballs into a fraught festive gathering with moments of truthful pain, but in the end Farina and his writers sit on the fence rather than embrace any extremes.