Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Oranges [2011]

MPAA (R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -

The Oranges (director Julian Farino, screenplay by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss) is a film that's both funny and one that (if one's thinking at all) take one "aback."

Set in respectable West Orange, New Jersey, it's about two middle upper middle class families, the Ostroffs and Wallings, who have been neighbors for years.  Indeed, the parents if no longer necessarily the kids have been best of friends.  David Walling (played by Hugh Laurie) and Terry Ostroff (played by Oliver Pratt) jog, religiously, three times a week together.  Together with their spouses Paige (played by Catherine Keener) and Carol (played by Allison Janney) respectively along with their grown kids Vanessa (played by Alia Shawkat) and Toby (played by Adam Brody) on the Walling side and Nina (played by Leighton Meester) on the Ostroff side (in as much as they are around, more on that below...), they share pretty much every holiday together.  What could possibly get between them?

Well ... in actuality, things are not necessarily as rosy as they may seem, if Vanessa's voice-over introducing us to the story is to be believed.  Yes, the parents are best of friends and Vanessa and Nina may have been best friends up until the middle of high school, but that quite some time ago.  Vanessa may have had talent.  She went on after high school to study interior design in college has harbored hopes of "moving to New York City someday..." to pursue that career.   Nina, on the other hand had looks and moxy.  By midway through high school, she had parted company with Vanessa, joined to "popular group" in school and indeed "stole" (or stole) Vanessa's only true heartthrob in high school.  Then as soon as high school was over, Nina split town going off to study, briefly, at a university about as away from home as possible.  Indeed, she hadn't been "home for the holidays" in something like 5 years.

We first meet Nina as she's calling her parents from San Francisco to tell them that she's getting engaged to her photographer boyfriend Ethan (played by Sam Rosen) someone who the parents had apparently never met and one gets the sense that mom, especially, never ever would have approved of.  "Are you coming home for Thanksgiving?" dad asks, "You haven't been back for the holidays in years."  "The whole gang will be there," adds mom.  "I just told you that I got engaged..." The phone call, to which the Wallings were present, because dad had put it on speaker phone ... ends with the sense that Nina's not coming back.  However, seconds after the call, Nina who had been calling from a party, finds Ethan in a compromising position with someone else ...

So ... a few weeks later, Nina's come home rolling her smart, light, quite fashionable travel bag in tow.  And ma' couldn't be more pleased because the Walling's son Toby, was going to be home as well.  Toby was an accountant apparently, who'd gotten some kind of a job with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington DC.  He seemed "to mom" to be a good sensible catch, unlike that photog boyfriend that Nina had before, and, if Nina / Tobi hit it off, well, that would bring the two families "even closer than ever."

Nina, no doubt counting the minutes before she would be able to leave again, does give it a try.  And Toby is _not_ hopeless.  But it's clear that he's not for Nina.  Who would be?   She doesn't really know but it's clear that "unconventional" is her preference.

Sigh, it turns out that the elders, David and Paige Walling, are having some marital difficulties.  Paige is really involved in the community, and as a result of constantly inviting her projects home, has been pushing her husband, just a regular guy further and further to the edges of "life at home" until he just sets up a "man cave" in the garage, wide screen and cable sports package and all.  And though he doesn't really have a "big plan" for the rest of his life, he knows that at least for the time being, he'd just prefer sit back and watch some sports.  He's worked hard for most of his life, he's earned it, he just wants to relax. 

So into this comes Nina, who's over at the Wallings largely to please her mom and to entertain her mom's dream that _perhaps "a spark" could be made with Toby.  But Toby, who's working hard for the FTC in Washington and beyond, falls asleep while Nina's getting him something from the fridge.  Nina sees David somewhat sadly going off into his "man cave" to watch "Korean Basketball" ... alone.  It seems somewhat clear that Nina "kinda liked/respected" David when she was a kid.  She feels sorry for him now.  So she comes over to his "man cave" with the glass of water meant initially for Toby, and ...

Yup.  Actually they don't anything more on screen than kiss.  And one gets the sense that they didn't necessarily do much more off-screen (both then or later...) either.  HOWEVER... a kiss is a kiss is a kiss and an adulterous (at least in spirit) connection is made.  What the heck now?

Well the sky falls.  It does.  The first to find out is Nina's snooping mom.  And almost immediately afterwards, life as these two quaint, small, suburban families knew it ... was over.  What now?  That's what the rest of the movie is about ...

How could one make sense of this?  Viewers, remember here that this story is being told by David's daughter Vanessa who initially still feels kinda pissed off at Nina for having blown her off in high school and even "stealing" her boyfriend back then.  It turns out that Vanessa has a coworker at the dead-end job at a suburban furniture store where she's been working since graduating _with a college degree_ (in interior design!).  The coworker's name is Henry (played by Hoon Lee) even though he is clearly of Chinese decent.  Hearing her complain about how her life _completely sucks_ now, that her former best friend had not only stolen her boyfriend back in high school but now was in the process of stealing her dad, "out of the blue" he tells her a Chinese proverb: "Sometimes an old cow just needs some new grass."  "What the heck are you talking about! Why _this grass_, why now, and for how long?"  "I don't know.  But is he happier?"

And there it is ... despite having done _everything wrong_, David was happier.  And indeed, others look at David -- Nina's dad (David's best friend), Vanessa (David's daughter), even David's wife (Vanessa's mom) -- And they all can see that.  Nina, fill-in the blank ______, may have been, fill in a nother blank ___________ but she had shaken things up.

Now, for _me too_, a Catholic priest after all, this movie is not the easiest to watch.  AND YET, with a smile I do note that ... while the two did kiss, twice, it's never absolutely clear or even particularly close to being clear that the two, Nina and David, actually slept with each other.

What was clear though that neither David nor Paige were particularly happy in their marriage and this "interlude" gave both the opportunity (an excuse) to go "their own way." 

Without SPOILING THINGS too much (but I give the warning anyway), Paige, already community minded, finds the opportunity to take her interest in reaching out several steps further, while David, who was finding himself at the beginning of the movie so marginalized that he was sleeping in the garage, finds that he actually kinda likes the house that he had worked for (and had largely paid for) and he also finds that not being relegated to the garage any more that he likes being involved in the life of his kids.  And Nina's ma learns to finally leave her daughter alone and even that "If Nina doesn't come home, maybe that makes for an invitation to go out and visit Nina..."

Here I would like to note that during the (Christian) Middle Ages in Europe it was not unheard of for married couples "after the kids were grown" (or otherwise taken care of) to "part ways" NOT TO REMARRY but honestly to enter into a new vocation.  Indeed, several of the Seven Holy Founders of my own religious order apparently did just that -- made provisions for their spouses and kids and then joined the rest of the seven to found the Order.  It could be said that Paige (certainly) and David (possibly) chose to do that.

Something to think about, huh? ;-)

Anyway, what I liked about this movie was that it didn't simply end "with the Apocalypse" (with the destruction of a family) or even with portraying someone (anyone) as being simply "the villain" of the story.  In the language of Vanessa's Chinese friend Henry: "Sometimes you have to burn down the house to see the moon."  And honestly, in our Christian/Catholic language: "With Death comes the opportunity for Resurrection/Rebirth."

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