Back-To-School Month: "Orange County" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Back-To-School Month: "Orange County" Review

Rating: PG-13
Length: 82 minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2002
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Genre: Comedy/Drama

"Orange County" is an American comedy written by Mike White and directed by Jake Kasdan. Produced by Scott Rudin for MTV Films and distributed by Paramount Pictures, the movie stars Colin Hanks as the lead character, Shaun Brumder.

Shaun is a teenager from an upper-middle-class family in Orange County, California. Although highly intelligent, Shaun is more interested in leading a carefree lifestyle than obtaining an education. After Shaun's best friend, Lonny (Bret Harrison), dies in a terrible surfing accident, Shaun's outlook on life changes dramatically, and he decides to escape his pedestrian existence by attending Stanford University and becoming a writer.

Shaun's ambition and high intelligence help him excel academically, and he is also elected president of his graduating class. Shaun's guidance counselor, Ms. Cobb (Lily Tomlin), advises him that he is assured of getting accepted to Stanford, so he only applies to that university. However, the counselor confuses his transcript for that of a less qualified student, and Shaun fails to gain admission to Stanford.

Shaun's girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) has a friend Tanya (Carly Pope) whose grandfather is a member of the Stanford admissions board. Ashley convinces Tanya to have her grandfather interview Shaun at his home so that he can explain the transcript mix-up. Unfortunately, John's dysfunctional family causes the board members to terminate the interview prematurely and leave in disgust. Sean's next attempt to gain admission to Stanford involves asking his wealthy father Bud (John Lithgow) to make a donation to Stanford that is large enough to get him accepted. His father, however, disapproves of writing as a career and refuses to make the donation.

Shaun makes a last-ditch attempt to get admitted to Stanford by making his case directly to Don Durkett (Harold Ramis), the Stanford admissions director. Shaun, Ashley, and Shaun's dimwitted older brother Lance (Jack Black) drive to Palo Alto, but the Stanford admissions building is closed when they arrive. Lance seduces Durkett's secretary and obtains his address from her, allowing the trio to find Durkett at his house.

Durkett is impressed by Shaun's real transcript and eventually agrees to accompany the trio back to the admissions building. Matters spin out of control when Durkett is accidentally drugged while the admissions building catches on fire. Shaun must resort to even more extreme measures if he wishes to obtain admission to Stanford while avoiding arrest.

"Orange County" is director Kasdan's second feature film after "Zero Effect." "Orange County" is a surprisingly effective teen comedy considering the much darker nature of Kasdan's first film. The general wackiness that surrounds Shaun and the quirky characters he meets in his attempt to enter the university of his dreams may remind adult viewers of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

This film doesn't use gross-out jokes to get laughs, which places it well above most recent teen comedies. Mike White uses character motivation as the primary source of humor in a manner that is reminiscent of the John Hughes films made during the 1980s. White's script has a satirical element that's not unlike that of his previous comedy, "Chuck & Buck."

Film buffs will notice that Kasdan, Hanks, and Fisk are all children of well-known Hollywood actors. "Orange County" shows that this trio is able to stand on their own merits without any help from their more famous parents. Hanks is the son of veteran actor Tom Hanks, and Fisk is the daughter of actress Sissy Spacek. Kasdan's father is director Lawrence Kasdan.

Hanks is especially convincing as an intelligent but otherwise unremarkable man who gets caught up in events that he is unable to control. He is also adept at striking the balance between determination and obnoxiousness, which is what this film requires. Fisk is refreshing as Shaun's girlfriend, because she doesn't have the classic good looks that appear to be required of leading actresses. Her ordinary appearance lends realism to the film, although Fisk and Hanks do show good chemistry together.

"Orange County" has an unusually large number of celebrities for a teen comedy, although they are not simply placed into the film for their name value. Jack Black is certainly the most memorable member of the supporting cast as Shaun's lazy but well-intentioned brother. His ability to draw the audience's attention allows him to steal every scene he's in. Harold Ramis and Catherine O'Hara also provide solid performances in their small roles. Other comedians in "Orange County" include Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, and Ben Stiller, all of whom appeared in "Zero Effect." The film also features famous comedian Chevy Chase.

Rating 3 out of 5