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"The Oranges": John Updike's Christmas Vacation 

Wednesday, Oct 3 2012
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Yeah, all right already, we get it about suburbia — it's a topography of middle-age despair hidden under a sunny beige façade. Also: Suburbia's dark underbelly — it's so dark! Now maybe Hollywood can finally move on and get to the bottom of those Winnebago-ready KOA campgrounds. Probably a lot of secrets buried there. The Oranges, an extremely dry comedy directed by Julian Farino, is kind of like a takedown of the suburbs written by the people who designed the menu at Olive Garden — it's inoffensive, forgettable, and you don't actually have to chew anything. The prodigal 24-year-old Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meester) returns home to West Orange, N.J., to visit her family for the holidays and embarks on an unsteamy affair with her dad's best friend, David Walling (Hugh Laurie), who lives right across the street with his wife and daughter. All of which rips away suburbia's beige duvet and basically reveals another beige, higher-thread-count duvet beneath. It's all really suburbs-affirming, ultimately. Which is fine! But then why make so much watered-down fun of life in the sprawl? The Oranges, aka John Updike's Christmas Vacation, makes such a big honkin' deal about Nina's exodus from Jersey after high school, and the failure of David's daughter Vanessa (the awesome Alia Shawkat) to achieve escape velocity, and then — following the climactic destruction of a holiday lawn display as boring, limp-dick protest against the status quo — decides that all the tract housing is okay after all.

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Chris Packham

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