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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Leighton Meester

Toronto 2011: ATO bringing 'The Oranges' to theaters in 2012

September 16, 2011 |  6:10 pm

The oranges stars hugh laurie

Interest in dramatic comedies remains strong at the Toronto International Film Festival, with independent distributor ATO Pictures on Friday acquiring rights to Julian Farino's intergenerational romance "The Oranges." ATO says it will bring the movie to U.S. theaters in 2012.

The movie stars Hugh Laurie (of TV's "House" fame) as a New Jersey father who strikes up a romance with the twentysomething daughter of his best friend, played by Leighton Meester (known for her role on "Gossip Girl"). The affair throws the lives of two families into disarray. The cast also includes Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Allison Janney.

The announcement reflects a Toronto deal market that has warmed up as the festival has gone along, particularly for dramatic comedies. CBS Films earlier in the week picked up rights to director Lasse Hallstrom's culture-clash film "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," IFC on Wednesday bought Lynn Shelton's love-triangle dramedy "Your Sister's Sister," and Jennifer Westfeldt's marital tale "Friends With Kids" has drawn the interest of several buyers.

Also on Friday, the movie arm of World Wrestling Entertainment acquired rights to "The Day," Doug Aarniokoski's post-apocalyptic thriller.


Toronto 2011: 'The Oranges' unpeels laughs and unease

Toronto 2011: Clooney's 'Descendants' is fall's big wild card

Toronto 2011: Woody Harrelson and Oren Moverman build a rampart

-- Steve Zeitchik in Toronto

Photo: The cast of "The Oranges." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival


Toronto 2011: 'The Oranges' unpeels laughs and unease

September 12, 2011 |  6:53 pm

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.

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With 'Oranges,' Hugh Laurie of 'House' (and possibly 'Gossip Girl' Leighton Meester) could take the film plunge

February 8, 2010 |  3:47 pm

It can be a crapshoot when TV actors step from the small screen into features; for every George Clooney or Steve Carell, there's a Zach Braff or Katherine Heigl.

Lau But a buzzed-about new movie called "Oranges" may be trying exactly that. The project, a dark dramatic comedy about an older man who has an affair with the daughter of a family friend, has been on Hollywood's radar for several years now. Back in 2008, the Jay Reiss-Ian Helfer script landed on the Black List, the grouping of the entertainment industry's most desired screenplay. (It came in at No. 2, ahead of vaunted projects like "Inglourious Basterds" and just behind the "The Beaver," the Mel Gibson-Jodie Foster collaboration that could hit later this year.) And it's being produced by Anthony Bregman, an indie producer with serious bona fides -- like, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" bona fides. (Glen Basner's Film Nation and Leslie Urdang's Olympus Pictures, incidentally, are financing "Oranges.")

Now the project may have another claim to fame: It could mark the first lead feature role for Hugh Laurie, who plays Dr. Gregory House on the hit Fox medical series. Sources say that Laurie is in discussions to play the lead role of the creepy/sympathetic older man. The British actor  has done voice work and a number of supporting parts in films such as "Sense & Sensibility" and "Stuart Little" but has never carried a movie before. Of course his work as a darkly comic presence on Fox for the past five-plus should make him familiar to audiences. And he has a versatile acting background, starring in a range of roles with former partner Stephen Fry.)

The "Oranges" TV credentials don't stop with Laurie, though. Sources say two candidates have jumped to the top of the list for either the lead female role or possibly another role:  "Gossip Girl" Leighton Meester and former "That '70s Show" co-star Mila Kunis. The latter has been turning a few film tricks of late -- she starred as the romantic/action co-lead in "The Book of Eli," and is playing a nemesis figure opposite Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming "Black Swan." Meester, known for the pincers-out Blaire Waldorf character on "Gossip Girl," would be wading into newer waters (a foray that would mark an interesting litmus test for CW stars on the big screen -- just as Chace Crawford attempts same in "Footloose").

Television roles can in some ways be more demanding than film, since they require a much higher arc over many hours of episodes, not just a three-act transformation. But, of course, everything is also more magnified on the theatrical screen, so when actors seem too small for a part, or try too hard, the results can be disastrous.

In a poetic twist, boith Meester and Kunis are set to star opposite each other in the upcoming comedy "Date Night." The film is headlined by Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- so Kunis and/or Meester could at least have a successful TV-film path in which to follow.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Hugh Laurie of "House." Credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.


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