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Review: 'The Oranges'

Hugh Laurie falls for a much younger woman. Haven't we seen this movie before?

Director: Julian Farino
Rating R. Running Time: 90 mins.
Stars: Hugh Laurie, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Leighton Meester, Alia Shawkat

Stop me if you've heard this one: Middle-aged man in a spark-less marriage becomes infatuated with a woman half his age, leading to generation-hopping romance, humiliated spouse and children, and general discomfort among longtime friends.

Wait, why didn't you stop me? After all, May-December romances are something like No. 6 on the Top 10 Movie Plots of All Time list. Just ask American Beauty, Daddy Long Legs, Election, Gigi and To Have and Have Not, for starters. And for finishers, how about Lolita?

The Oranges aspires to breathe the rarefied air of those classics, but it's so weightless the high-level winds nearly blow it away. Hugh Laurie, the British star of House giving his American accent one last go-round, is David, the middle-ager in question. Beautiful young Leighton Meester is Nina, the 24-year-old object of his affection, who as an added fillip is the wayward daughter of his best friends (Allison Janney and Oliver Platt). Utterly devastated in the bargain are David's wife Paige (Catherine Keener) and grown kids (Alia Shawkat and Adam Brody).

In real life, of course, such a set of circumstances would inevitably have at least some tragic undertones, leaving an emotional battlefield of scarred psyches in its wake. In Movieland, on the other hand, after everyone gets over the initial shock, and is permitted to emit a flare or two of righteous anger, we learn that what's really, really important in life is being happy. Indeed, between the film's opening scenes, unfolding a few days before Thanksgiving, and the what-lessons-have-we-learned climax, which comes on Christmas Eve, everyone negotiates those stages of loss and anger faster than grease through a Christmas goose.

The Yuletide miracle here is that the veteran cast pulls this hokum off with such aplomb. Laurie, proudly sporting a balding spot that seems to grow from scene to scene, is perfect as a guy who finds himself sliding down the slipperiest of slopes, simultaneously protesting and doing very, very little to get a protective foothold. As the friends, Janney and Platt are infectiously flabbergasted by it all. Best of all is Keener as the betrayed wife who, in the midst of her requisite "this-is-my-chance-to-discover-myself" transformation, is allowed one humdinger of a front-lawn blowup that involves, fittingly enough, decorative front lawn blowups.

The Oranges — named for a cluster of towns familiar to denizens of northern New Jersey — takes a few lame stabs at simulating a Jersey winter. But the holiday decorations on the blotchy white spray-painted lawns are less than convincing. As is the movie.

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