From The Sopranos to Garden State to reality shows, New Jersey is prime real estate for on-screen family dysfunction, and The Oranges is a perfectly cast story of failings and fresh starts. If you're looking for a cynical festive movie whose heart is ultimately in the right place it will provide a breather from the shopping, or, indeed, significant others.
David and Paige Walling (Laurie and Keener) and across-the-road neighbours Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Platt and Janney) have been best friends for decades, their bond even surviving a particularly bitter falling out between daughters Vanessa (Shawkat) and Nina (Meester). While the latter left chez Ostroff at the first available chance for boho-dom on the West Coast, Vanessa still hasn't fled the Wailing nest three years after graduating from design college. It's a life of quiet predictability on Orange Drive, but all that changes when Nina arrives home unexpectedly for Thanksgiving. And the news that her engagement is off is one of the smallest traumas that the Ostroff and Walling clans will have to deal with in the run-up to December 25.
With a CV that includes both Coronation Street and Entourage, Farino is an ideal director for exploring kitchen sink dynamics and excruciating social situations: The Oranges provides both and would've made for a great series. With lines of the quality of "She's so non-specific it's like talking to fog" or "When you're a parent someday you'll understand what it feels like to have your child hate you" it zips along at small-screen pace, but the big disappointment is that there isn't another half-hour to tease out more from the relationships.
Apart from making you count the blessings in your own life, The Oranges is also a reminder of all the class actors we don't see enough of in big roles in cinemas. The ever-hotter Keener deftly mixes desperation with a cheery exterior; Platt plays the clueless, gadget-obsessed dad to perfection; Janney deserves a comedy written especially for her and the best is surely yet to come for Shawkat. As for Laurie and Meester - both great too - hopefully the end of their TV gigs will mean more of this kind of quirky stuff.
Something of a surprise gift - but this is one of those times when you're also allowed to feel that you deserved something bigger.