There's plenty of potential for jagged black humour in this suburban comedy-drama, but the filmmakers never take a single risk. So with its soft and simplistic approach, the movie is never as quirky or hilarious as it should have been, or as the filmmakers seem to think it is. The only pleasure in watching it comes through understated touches the gifted cast members manage to inject here and there. And what a great cast!
It's set in West Orange, New Jersey, where two families have been best friends for decades. David and Paige Walling (Laurie and Keener) have two grown children: Vanessa (Shawkat) lives at home while Toby (Brody) drops in to visit every now and then. Across the street are the Ostroffs, Terry and Carol (Platt and Janney), whose wayward daughter Nina (Meester) is home for Thanksgiving. Everyone thinks a romance between Toby and Nina would be wonderful. But as the Wallings try to work out some marital problems, it's David who drifts into a transgressive affair with Nina. Which sends these long-time friendships into spiralling chaos.
The plot is so perfectly suited to a black comedy that we wonder what happened along the way. Director Farino smooths every edge, instead straining for silly farce that leads to some sort of emotional catharsis. But he fails to recognise that these people are all intelligent adults, so the fallout from David and Nina's fling feels contrived and obvious. The script also never makes us feel like they are doing anything besides reacting to their previous relationships: this isn't real love, so why should we care?
The entire cast is excellent, although they are hemmed in by the sexless approach and underwritten roles. Janney and Keener liven up the entire film by quietly stealing every scene they're in, while Laurie at least adds some messy emotional subtext. Everyone else feels paper-thin, including Shawkat's Vanessa, a sidelined character through whose eyes we are supposedly watching everything. So while there's plenty to enjoy here, it never amounts to anything. We never understand why they don't just sell their respective houses and move on with their lives.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th October 2012
Box Office USA: $0.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $198.5 thousand
Distributed by: ATO Pictures
Production compaines: Likely Story, Olympus Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 49
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Julian Farino
Screenwriter: Ian Helfer, Jay Reiss
Starring: Leighton Meester as Nina Ostroff, Hugh Laurie as David Walling, Alia Shawkat as Vanessa Walling, Allison Janney as Carol Ostroff, Catherine Keener as Paige Walling, Adam Brody as Toby Walling, Oliver Platt as Terry Ostroff