David Lynch once said that when you have 70 ideas, you have a movie. That may be true -- if you're David Lynch. But most filmmakers using this technique will wind up with something like "The Oranges," a likable but extremely scattered comedy-drama with so many plots, themes and characters that 70 seems like a low estimate.
Alia Shawkat (Fox's "Arrested Development") stars as Vanessa Walling, a once-ambitious college graduate who returns to West Orange, N.J., to live with her parents, David and Paige (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener). Vanessa narrates for us, introducing longtime neighbors Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney), and their free-spirited but reckless daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester). The two girls have a long history, and it's about to get longer.
So far, this is the story of an aimless 20-something still nursing childhood wounds. But when nubile Nina instigates an affair with Vanessa's dad, "The Oranges" tackles a whole new theme of taboo romance. It's still a comedy -- Janney is wonderful as an expletive-spluttering mother hen -- but we're also watching two families reel from a terrible betrayal. Adding to the narrative confusion are Vanessa's too-nice brother, Toby (Adam Brody), and Nina's dogged former flame, Ethan (Sam Rosen).
Directed by Julian Farino and written by Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer, "The Oranges" hits and misses at random. Meester's Nina is absolutely radiant, but Laurie's David is a dour dullard. There are some genuinely moving moments, but the mayhem-in-suburbia slapstick falls flat. The film is certainly unpredictable, but that's partly because it doesn't know its own mind.
By the way, what about our heroine, Vanessa? She shows up occasionally and keeps narrating, but she's a structurally useless appendage with no real relevance to any story. Maybe she was idea 71.
PLOT In suburban New Jersey, an illicit romance drives a wedge between two families. RATING R (language, sexual themes)
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas
BOTTOM LINE Smart and sometimes funny, but too many plots and characters make for one seriously scattered comedy.