Orange County


Directed by: Jack Kasdan
Written by:Mike White
Starring: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O’Hara, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow
Released: August 22, 2002
Grade: A-

I’m not much of a music fan and haven’t watched a single minute of the famous MTV.  I have no intention too either.  But the music television company has now established itself as a filmmaker and they have my attention.  Their record isn’t flawless (Crossroads, Dead Man On Campus) but surprisingly, they’re a studio I’ve come to trust with providing spark within the teen genre.  Varsity Blues and Save The Last Dance are strong examples but Election is definitive proof.

Orange County is a little gem that has only recently snuck into Australian cinemas despite being released in the United States back in early January.  In this film, the “spark” comes from the performance of star Colin Hanks (yep, that’s the son of Tom).  Hanks has distinguished himself with small roles in other teen comedies such as Get Over It and Whatever It Takes but shines with the opportunity in a leading role.  He sure looks like a younger version of his dad and early signs indicate his acting ability may be of equal quality.

Shaun Brumder (Hanks) has had some fun through high school by going surfing, hanging out with friends and generally enjoying himself.  At the beach one afternoon, he finds an old book written by author Marcus Skinner.  He reads it several times and it inspires him to become a writer.  Knuckling down in his final year at high school, his guidance councillor assures him that he’s a shoe-in to get a spot studying literature at Stanford University (where Marcus Skinner teaches).  On her “advice”, he doesn’t even apply to other colleges.

The date of offer arrives and he is prepared for exciting news.  He races home to open the mail and... “I didn’t get in”.  Stunned, he realises the guidance councillor sent in the wrong transcript (of a much dumber student) playing a major factor in his rejection.  Not taking no for an answer, Shaun, his brother Lance (Black) and his girlfriend Ashley (Fisk) set off for Stanford to appeal for sympathy to the Dean of Admission.  It will be a very interesting trip...

Hanks plays it straight and unlike most characters in cheap teen comedies, he has intelligence.  There’s a scene late in the film where he finally meets Marcus Skinner (played by an uncredited Hollywood star) and the pure joy of the scene brought a near tear to my eye.  Also well created is Shaun’s relationship with his girlfriend.  Like any well matched couple, they gain much from each other’s advice and you can see the feeling between them without all the usual mushiness and obligatory romantic moments.

The rest of the cast are all nuts.  Jack Black wears few clothes and his grubbiness is the source of some great gags.  As Shaun’s divorced parents, Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow are insane and the drunken mutterings of O’Hara will have you cringing with embarrassment.  With the smallest of roles, Chevy Chase and Lily Tomlin are listed during the opening credits but there are two much bigger stars (who aren’t listed) to keep an eye out for.  I guess they asked not to be credited but it’s still strange to see.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the mix of silly comedy and logical sensibility.  Writer Mike White and director Jack Kasdan worked together on the short-lived American TV series Freaks And Geeks.  Like MTV, maybe their true calling is on the bigger screen.