David and Paige (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) are neighbors on the same block in the NJ suburbs of the title, both well to do and constantly enthralled with the latest gadgets on the market. But when Nina, Terry and Cathy’s free-spirited, nomadic daughter, Nina (Gossip Girl Leighton Meester) returns home after a failed relationship, everyone’s happy existence is thrown into chaos. David and Paige’s daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) is embittered by her sheltered life and fleeting dreams of being a designer and their son Toby (Adam Brody), who was thought to be a perfect fit for Nina, is conflicted when the free spirit instead finds a kinship and romance with the older, but miserable, David. What ensues is a comedic look at how marriages survive and wither as well as an insightful look into how happiness eludes people in favor of normalcy and comfort.
New Jersey (despite not being shot in NJ) is shown in an appeal not seen in a certain shore show or long-off-the-air Mafia cable drama. The Oranges is an idyllic, decorative suburb with manicured lawns and a Rockwell-esque appeal that demonstrates that the Garden State is far more beautiful than it is given credit for, and kudos to the production team for finding locations that fit the state without making it too much of a distraction. It is odd that the film, while nowhere near a big-budget noisemaker, could not be filmed at least in a nearby location such as Montclair or Verona, towns that could easily fill in for the Oranges. But the film survives due to the appeal and witty exchanges between the characters, and Meester actually does a lot to distance herself from the bitchy society girl on Girl and makes you feel for and against her devil-may-care character who is far from the typical whore found in such fare, just a girl falling into unfortunate situation after situation. Another standout is Keener, a wife trying to (and ultimately, in hilarious fashion) put on a brave smile while her happily framed life falls apart all around her.
So, instead of the usual fare that is soon quickly forgotten just as soon as it has arrived, give The Oranges a view, a great Jersey film that isn’t and wasn’t at the same time.
by N.J Holden