With second film The Oranges (2011), Julian Farino is still a far way off securing any form of distinctive directorial style, his latest a simplistic story of small-town outrage. Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meester) returns home and is quickly introduced to the Walling family’s eligible son Toby (Adam Brody), but the neighbouring families are shocked to learn that she has her eyes on his father, David (Hugh Laurie). Cue heated arguments about the age gap and some misplaced moments of comedy. With modern cinema currently under siege from quirky rom-coms and offbeat dramedies, we’re hardly in need of any new contributions.
And yet, The Oranges could easily have benefited from a greater injection of such aforementioned whimsy. In all likelihood, it’s an American film which would have unravelled the peculiar dynamics of suburban scandal had Tim Burton or Wes Anderson been in the director’s hot-seat. Instead, Farino struggles to elude the melodramatic indifference so plainly visible in his television catalogue.
The performances keep Farino’s family drama afloat, but struggle to do much more. Allison Janney and Oliver Platt, as Nina’s livid parents, recall the high-intensity roles we enjoyed in The West Wing, but fail to elicit the same dramatic effects. British flag-bearer Laurie works reasonably well as the respectable dad whose involvement in the relationship exposes his fallibility rather than depicts him as a villain. That being said, these aren’t enough to get under the skin of what makes sex scandals amongst close families so shocking.
The Oranges is certainly watchable and hints at the residential freakishness of tight-knit communities. There’s an uncomfortably cautious tone that Farino seems afraid to develop, continuously winding it back in to avoid drifting into darker territory. Yet, had we been gifted with a more sinister insight into these relationships, Farino’s film would have easily avoided blandness and caution.