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Originally published Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'The Oranges' is a superbly cast dark comedy

"The Oranges," directed by Julian Farino and starring Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Leighton Meester, Allison Janney and others, is a superbly cast dark comedy full of tiny moments that feel utterly real, writes Moira Macdonald in this review of the film. It's playing at Seattle's Sundance Cinemas.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Oranges,' with Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Leighton Meester, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Adam Brody, Sam Rosen. Directed by Julian Farino, from a screenplay by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss. 90 minutes. Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. Several theaters.

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A husband (Hugh Laurie) and wife (Catherine Keener), currently estranged, meet by accident in a restaurant. He strides toward her, determined to make the most of an awkward situation; she, looking at him, tries to smile but it keeps fading away, like an engine that sputters but won't start. "The Oranges," a superbly cast dark comedy directed by Julian Farino and set in the suburb of West Orange, N.J., is full of tiny moments like this that feel utterly real; it's a familiar story made fresh by actors who know how to make each breath matter.

The idea of discontent simmering under the perfect exterior of suburbia has been around for a long time, and lesser actors might have made "The Oranges" forgettable. It's the story of two families, longtime neighbors and best friends, who face crisis one holiday season when Nina (Leighton Meester), rebellious early-20s daughter of Terry (Oliver Platt) and Cathy Ostroff (Allison Janney), begins an affair with twice-her-age David Walling (Hugh Laurie). David is married to Paige (Keener) and lives across the street. Consequences are emotionally devastating, for all involved.

That said, it's surprising how funny "The Oranges" can be. Platt and Janney, playing a married couple hit by a thunderbolt, are a dream team (she's sharp, he's soft, and together they form a wit cocktail); Alia Shawkat, as David and Paige's grown daughter, adds wry commentary to the mix, though you wish her character were fleshed out more; Sam Rosen, a late arrival to the action, has a charming cluelessness as Nina's hapless fiancé.

But the real story's in that broken smile of Keener's, or in the way Laurie's sad-eyed character stares at Nina as if he's trying to reconcile the little girl across the street with this new, appealing woman, or in how Nina, young and callow, focuses in on happiness, believing that it's all that matters.

All of the characters come together for the final act — a sort of Christmas Eve from hell, as the snowflakes softly fall — and you find yourself, improbably, wishing all of them well. Though its comedy is often darker than a winter night, "The Oranges," ultimately, treats its people kindly.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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