American movies that are ostensibly about family are really about individualism. The family become the context, the arena, in which the individual struggles for genuine happiness or authentic conscience. This truism came home to me after watching The Oranges last Thursday and The Details last night, both films from 2011.
The Oranges, directed by Julian Farino, is set in an area of New Jersey where the cities all have the word "orange" in their name. The Wallings and the Ostroffs share a long friendship until the wayward Ostroff daughter (Catherine Keener) returns and has an affair with David (Hugh Laurie), the head of the Walling household. The resultant shake-up makes everyone realize their unhappiness and seek change. Oliver Platt puts in a pitch-perfect performance of the hapless Ostroff, father of the young siren. He is partnered by the always worth watching Allison Janney.
The Details, a black comedy, casts Tobey Maguire as Dr. Jeff Lang, who lives an outwardly perfect suburban life with a beautiful wife and a cute kid, but who resorts to internet porn when his wife (Elizabeth Banks) refuses to give it up. His life unravels when he decides to have sex with an old friend and accepts sex from a crazy neighbor (Laura Linney). Following the path of least resistance leads this anti-hero to blackmail and murder. Jacob Aaron Estes directed his excellent cast well, but his writing could have tighter.