Toronto 2011: ‘The Oranges’ unpeels laughs and unease

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Julian Farino is a frequent director of HBO programs, including ‘Entourage,’ ‘Rome’ and ‘How to Make It in America,’ and has been nominated for multiple Emmys, yet he conceded to being a bit nervous this past weekend when his debut feature film, ‘The Oranges,’ made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

‘Everybody says, ‘Oh, I love that script. I can’t wait to see what you did with it.’ Which obviously racked up the pressure,’ Farino said before the film rolled at the city’s Winter Garden Theater. ‘Anyway you all are going to be the first people to see what we did with it.’

The well-circulated script by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss was on the 2008 Black List, an annual compendium of hot unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. And what a script it must have been to attract a cast that includes Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Adam Brody and Leighton Meester. (All but Brody and Keener attended Saturday’s premiere.)

‘The Oranges’ revolves around two families who are extremely close and live across the street from each other in suburban New Jersey. When the twentysomething daughter of one family returns home after several years and begins an affair with the father of the other, everyone’s life falls apart. But from the wreckage things start anew, and they all wind up somehow the better for the affair.


The film is played lightly, and it elicited a number of big laughs from the audience despite the essentially discomforting subject matter: age-inappropriate infidelity, what with Hugh Laurie’s character taking up with a partner the same age as his own daughter. With a competent, glossy look, the film is nothing if not commercial and would certainly seem to be in line for some sort of domestic distribution deal based on the strength of its cast alone.

The post-screening Q&A Saturday got off on an awkward start when the first question from the audience began with a woman saying, ‘I love the movie, but I don’t know that I get it’ and being more or less shouted down by the crowd. Once she sputtered out something more, the onstage moderator said the question had to do with ‘a question of morality.’

Farino seemed thrown by the question.

‘It’s meant to be about forgiveness and not being judgmental,’ he managed to get out, ‘and the story is basically about how things that can go wrong might generate change that can be positive... There is sympathy for human frailty and mistakes and things like that. It’s supposed to be a very affirmative movie but acknowledging that life isn’t always so straightforward.’

From there the questions were mostly friendly comments, including one from a man declaring he had loved Allison Janney for 15 years, another from a viewer calling it the best ensemble of the last 30 years, and yet another saying it was the best comedy of the last 50 years.

Having answered another question rather succinctly, Laurie — who had already won the crowd over during the pre-screening introductions — grandly rubbed his forehead as he added, ‘I’m sorry, I just had to, because this is going to nag at me. I’d like to go back to the first question.’

‘Good heavens above,’ continued Laurie, ‘if ever a film seemed to affirm the absolutely utilitarian idea of morality, which is the greatest happiness to the greatest number, [this is] that film. It’s about people loving each other, forgiving each other, and at the end of the film achieving the greatest happiness. Everybody. What could you possibly object to in that system of morality?’

Toward the end of the Q&A, Platt asked the writers, Reiss and Helfer, to stand from their seats in the audience. As the crowd cheered, Platt said that anyone wanting to know what drew all the actors to the project, it was — and he repeated the word six times — the script.


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— Mark Olsen in Toronto