Screenplay : Michael White
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Colin Hanks (Shaun Brumder), Schuyler Fisk (Ashley), Catherine O'Hara (Cindy Beugler), Jack Black (Lance Brumder), John Lithgow (Bud Brumder), Lily Tomlin (Guidance counselor), Harold Ramis (Don Durkett)
Orange County is an amusing, sometimes witty, but often uneven comedy about the horrors of familial dysfunction. It is also an example of the benefits of Hollywood nepotism, with the talented twentysomething offspring of the current Hollywood dominion in many of the key roles. The role of Shaun Brumder, a high-school senior trying to get into Stanford so he can study under a writer/professor whom he reveres, is played by Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks; Shaun's sweet and dedicated girlfriend, Ashley, is played by Schuyler Fisk, the daughter of Sissy Spacek; and the movie was directed by Jake Kasdan, the son of director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Body Heat).
The title of the movie obviously takes itself from Orange County in Southern California, depicted as a haven of surfing, spoiled rich kids, and dysfunctional parents who get out their by aggressions drinking, making money, cheating on their spouses, and yelling at the hired help, not necessarily in that order. It is, in Shaun's mind, not the place for a budding young writer. After giving up surfing for the writing life, he applies to Stanford, and with his solid SAT scores, the college guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin, one of several old-school comedians in quirky supporting roles) tells him he's a "shoo-in." Unfortunately, though, she sends in the wrong transcript, Shaun is rejected, and he feels that his life has been ruined.
Most of the movie then follows Shaun's hectic 24-hour odyssey to convince someone--anyone--to let him into Stanford. Shaun, whose parents are divorced and both remarried for less-than-noble reasons, initially goes to his business-driven father (John Lithgow) to ask him to donate something to Stanford so he can get in. This only leads to a misguided fatherly lecture about how there's no money in writing and he shouldn't be writing anyway because he's not oppressed or gay.
Ashley pulls some strings and gets one of the members of the board of regents to come over to Shaun's house to meet with him. But, that turns into a disaster of epic proportions when Shaun's insecure mother (Catherine O'Hara, who has seems to specialize in playing troubled mother figures--see 1988's Beetlejuice and 1990's Home Alone) gets drunk and Shaun's loser older brother, Lance (Jack Black), wanders into the living room in his skivvies looking for a urine sample to give to his parole officer.
In a fit of desperation, Shaun allows Lance to drive him up to Stanford that night so he can meet with the dean of admissions (Harold Ramis) in one final ditch effort. Unfortunately, this only causes further catastrophe, this time involving speed and the burning down of the admissions building (which leads to one of the movie's several unbilled surprise cameos).
Orange County was penned by Michael White (Chuck & Buck), who gives the hectic story some interesting dimensions that are often lacking in teen comedies of this sort. The simple fact that the teenage male protagonist's driving desire is to get into Stanford so he can be a writer is something of an aberration in the genre, as it presupposes that he not only has a brain, but also has significant emotions and a desire to do something with his life. Colin Hanks, in his first leading role, shows much of the same everyman decency that has made his father so popular--he is, after all, along with Ashley, the one normal person in the movie, so despite his many breakdowns and pratfalls, he is essentially playing the straight man to the insanity around him.
Although he role is supporting, Jack Black steals most of his scenes as Lance, whom Shaun describes at one point as being in a perpetual state of getting over the night before. Lance is everything Shaun doesn't want to be--slovenly, lazy, still living at home even though he's obviously too old, and, the icing on the cake, blissfully unaware that any of these characteristics might be unattractive. In this way, Black brings to mind some of the qualities of John Belushi in his National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) days, in that he evokes comedic sloth--and a complete acceptance of that sloth--effortlessly.
In the end, Orange County is out to be the teen movie with a good heart. It was Jake Kasdan's second Hollywood feature (after 1998's Bill Pullman detective comedy Zero Effect), and despite several jokes at the expensive of the elderly and the unattractive, it's not out to offend or shock anyone. Instead, it actually has a warm-hearted, if somewhat trite, message that "there's no place like home" ... at least when it comes to getting inspiration for one's writing.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick