"The Oranges" answers in the affirmative a question you probably weren't asking: Are the movies still recycling "American Beauty"?
Snark, irony and a smidge of sentiment in the suburbs is a formula that has been recycled so many times many of the actors in "The Oranges" aren't even playing this type of role in that type of movie for the first time: Catherine Keener was already a well-to-do woman trying to figure out how to bring philanthropy into her life, as she is here, in "Please Give." Meanwhile, her husband in that film, Oliver Platt, is her neighbor in this one. Adam Brody was a smart aleck caught in a subdivision romantic triangle with an older partner in "In the Land of Women." And Allison Janney has played versions of this snappish suburbanite many, many times since she did it in "The Ice Storm."
Familiarity does not necessarily make "The Oranges" contemptible. Even if the performances aren't entirely fresh, they are mostly sharp. I would love to see the whip-smart Janney get chances to do other things, but I could happily watch her nail these prickly inflections and muttered asides forever. Keener, too, is always a pleasure. And as those women's daughters, who are most affected by the awkward neighborhood romance that provides "The Oranges" with its nominal plot, Leighton Meester and Alia Shawkat are vibrant and intelligent.
I was willing to hang with all of them, but where "The Oranges" kept losing me was Hugh Laurie, who confuses playing a person suffering from depression with giving a depressing performance. His acting in "The Oranges" is so unrelievedly glum and tamped down that you begin to wonder if it's the actor, not the character, who is suffering. Laurie seems to have no joy in performing whatsoever.
That's trouble in a movie that hinges on his character's midlife crisis and that wants us to observe it from an ironic but bemused distance.
It's possible Laurie wouldn't seem like such a one-note bore if he were working with a more insightful script or if he weren't surrounded by so many lively women. But the evidence of those women's talents is everywhere in "The Oranges," and it makes you wish the movie spent a lot more time with them.
Directed by: Julian Farino
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Alia Shawkat, Allison Janney, Catherine Keener
Rated: R, for strong language and drug use
Should you go? It's only OK, but it's probably worth seeing if you're a Janneyphile or Keenerphile, like me. **