Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Colin Hanks, Schuyler Fisk, Catherine O'Hara, Jack Black, John Lithgow
MPAA Rating: (for drug content, language and sexuality)
Running Time: 1:23
Release Date: 1/11/02
Buy Related Products
Review by Mark Dujsik
Over the past few years, the teen comedy has become the gross-out comedy, and it seemed stuck in this rut, implying that younger audiences crave disgusting humor with nothing else behind it. Last year, the trend came to a crescendo with a whole list of movies that I would rather leave unmentioned, as to forget about their existence. Slowly, though, the select few have shown some heart, and Orange County continues that tradition. This is certainly a crude comedy, no doubt about it, but itís kind-hearted. More importantly, unlike so many other comedies, most of the humor stems from characters, as opposed to situations that are established only for a cheap laugh. The movie takes its time establishing its characters, too, even if they are mostly caricatures. Its head is in the gutter, yes, but its heart and brain are in the right place.
Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) was once a surfer, until one day his friend died trying to catch a really big, Perfect Storm-esque wave. While sitting on the beach in mourning, he discovered a book in the sand. The book touched him, talking honestly about adolescence and capturing so much of what he had been going through. It was then and there that he decided he would be a writer. Now, itís time for him to decide where to go to college, and the choice is clear: Stanford, where his author-hero teaches. So, he applies and sends one of his short stories to the professor, hoping to get some actual criticism. His mother Cindy (Catherine OíHara) is too busy neglecting her new elderly husband. His brother Lance (Jack Black) spends his life constantly recovering from the night before. His father Bud (John Lithgow) is too busy with his new twenty-something wife and business to understand his sonís desire ("Why do you want to be a writer? Youíre not repressed. Youíre not gay."). His girlfriend Ashely (Schuyler Fisk) is too blinded by love. So when heís denied admission, heís obviously going to do all he can to change this fate.
The movie plays, as always, as a series of gags, but its humor is not exclusive to the gross-out type. There are pop-culture references and amusing dialogue to go along, but most importantly, the movie does not feel like an endurance contest. We are, in a way, blessed with a PG-13 rated teen comedy in which suggestions are made, situations are taken just far enough, and bodily fluids thankfully make only one appearance. A few years ago, I never would have said this, but thereís a scene with a cup of urine that shows great restraint. Itís certainly funny, but the payoff does not add an admission of disgust with the laugh. Itís mostly important to note what the person holding the cup does not do with it. Director Jake Kasdan and writer Michael White are not breaking any new ground with the jokes or the approach, but they manage to make the movie seem fresh by simply restricting some of the more disgusting tendencies of the genre. They should also be complimented for keeping far too prevalent stomach-churning material absent.
Just as a character in the movie states that Sean loves the characters of his short story, White has fun introducing and developing his amusing caricatures. I wouldnít be surprised to find out the script is semi-autobiographical, but if it is not, it certainly feels that way. The performances are nicely tuned to playing types while keeping a level of understanding for the audience to relate to. Catherine OíHara and John Lithgow have some great scenes, including one in which OíHaraís mother makes a fool of herself in front of a member of Stanfordís board of directors. Thereís a slight hint of sadness in this scene. Schuyler Fisk, the daughter of Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk, plays Ashley like the kind of girlfriend only a rare few are lucky enough to have. Jack Black is a solid and constant energetic presence, and in keeping him slightly in the background, thereís an implication of sadness to his character as well. Colin Hanks, the son of Tom, is a completely likable hero, and there are certainly similarities between his comedic delivery and that of his father. Note particularly the inflection of his voice when he gets angry.
Underlying all the jokes and simple characterization is the sense that everything the characters in the movie do is to help young Sean realize his dream. They may put up more obstacles in doing so, but thatís not the point. They love him, and even though it takes a while for him to remember, he loves them back. Yes, this is a simple message, but in days when comedies would rather try to make us vomit, itís a nice, entertaining change of pace.
Note: There is a wide assortment of cameos in the movie. They include credited appearances by Lily Tomlin as an inept guidance counselor, Chevy Chase as the principal, and Harold Ramis as the dean of admissions who accidentally discovers the secret of Lanceís collection of medication. There is another cameo by a recognizable comedian, but the real surprise is an uncredited actor who plays Seanís mentor. I would not dare give it away, but I will say that itís a perfect choice.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.