Main cast: Colin Hanks (Shaun Brumder), Jack Black (Lance Brumder), Catherine O’Hara (Cindy Beugler), Schuyler Fisk (Ashley), John Lithgow (Bud Brumder), Harold Ramis (Don Durkett), Jane Adams (Mona), Garry Marshall (Arthur Gantner), Dana Ivey (Vera Gantner), Carly Pope (Tanya), Jane Adams (Mona), Chevy Chase (Principal Harbert), Lily Tomlin (Charlotte Cobb), Leslie Mann (Krista), Kyle Howard (Arlo), RJ Knoll (Chad), Bret Harrison (Lonny), George Murdock (Bob Beugler), Monica Keena (Gretchen), Fran Kranz (Shane Brainard), and Mike White (Mr Burke)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Orange County is a pleasant surprise. Instead of the usual teen movie that celebrates the usual shallow “Life is deep after lots of sex and drugs, yo!” philosophy, this movie actually pushes forward that there is something more to a teenager’s life than today. Dreams, ambitions, imagination, and yes, education actually help to shape up the best of your life, this movie tells me.
While it does have its share of lowbrow gross-out body function jokes (well, you did see Jack Black in the credits, didn’t you?) on the whole it is a very watchable movie.
Colin Hanks, usually a monotonous actor like his father, is actually pretty effective as sensitive teen Shaun Brumder. He was a usual surf bum in the beachside Orange County, carefree and living for the moment, until his friend died in a silly accident. Shaun found a book by the beach that day, and his life changed when he read that book. He found it so profound and deep that he read it 52 times in one go.
He decides there and then that he wants to be a writer just like Marcus Skinner, the author, and to do that, he will go to Stanford, where Skinner teaches. But it isn’t easy. Shaun turns out to be a straight A student through hard work, but his schizophrenic high school counselor Ms Cobb sends the wrong SAT transcript with his application. Bye bye Stanford.
In desperation, he tries to salvage his chances of entry, but it isn’t easy when he has a perpetually stoned brother (Jack Black, effortlessly hilarious as Lance), a mother prone to alcohol-induced Meryl Streep impersonations, and various other people who just cannot help sabotaging poor Shaun’s hopes. Only his girlfriend Ashley remains the sane one of the bunch.
If you’re into Hollywood genealogy, you may notice that Schuyler Fisk and Colin Hanks as well as the director Jake Kasdan are offsprings of Hollywood celebrity couples (Ms Fisk is the daughter of Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk). While this movie leaves me largely unmoved by the younger Fisk’s acting ability (her only role in this movie is apparently to do her best Kirsten Dunst impersonation) and I’m still leery of Mr Hanks’s actual talent (let’s face it, Get over It, getting axed from Roswell, and a short stint in Daddy’s Band of Brothers aren’t exactly a sterling track record), I’m pretty impressed by the younger Kasdan’s ability to handle his cast. While the body function jokes are badly at odds with the sensitively handled issues of family, the need for one’s private space, and one’s dreams and ambition, it does on the whole succeed in balancing humor with subject matters pertinent to adolescents and the inner kid in the older audience.
In fact, if this movie hasn’t done a too-neat closure, I may have given this movie an unreserved two thumbs up. As it is, while I love this movie, I walk away feeling vaguely discontent. This movie could have easily been so much better, if the script hasn’t dipped so often into low brow humor and contrived plot closures.