ORANGE COUNTY Surprise
After watching so many dreadful teen movies like Road Trip and American Pie, I harbored no high hopes for Orange County, a comedy starring Colin Hanks, Jack Black, and Schuyler Fisk. So what if the son of Tom Hanks and the daughter of Sissy Spacek were making their starring debuts in this MTV-produced flick? And I didn’t think I could take another film about a dysfunctional family after suffering through The Royal Tenenbaums as recently as last week.
Just "shows to go ya" how wrong I can be sometimes. Orange County turns out to be a very funny film about a motivated student whose college plans go awry. But, wonder of wonders, it’s also a teen movie with a humanistic message. No rodent or pastry abuse in sight. Yes, there’s crude humor involving substance abuse, particularly by Black’s (Shallow Hal) character, but the mercurial actor manages to carry off his role with outlandish charm. Quite an accomplishment, considering he appears only in his underwear during most of the film --- and he’s no Adonis. He wriggles his eyebrows, grimaces wildly, and reminds me of the Three Stooges all rolled into one "portly" imp.
Playing Hanks’ big brother, Black tries to help his straight-arrow sibling get into Stanford after the high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin, hilarious as usual) screws up his admissions application. Of course, mayhem ensues, especially for the hapless Dean of Admissions at Stanford (Harold Ramis) who loses more than his dignity.
Why does Shaun Brumder (Hanks) want to attend Stanford? For two very important reasons. First, his favorite author teaches there, and Shaun wants desperately to be a writer just like him. And, as a serious student, he feels he must leave Orange County because his family and friends are holding him back. His surfer buddies spend most of their time dreaming about blowing something up or jumping off something. His stressed-out mom (Catharine O’Hara) needs Shaun to help with the care of her disabled second husband, and his absentee dad (John Lithgow), who worships money, is married to a spoiled younger woman. Like his mother, Shaun’s girlfriend (Fisk) would rather he attended a college closer to home.
Although the entire cast deserves kudos, O’Hara’s performance, in particular, fascinated me. While laughing at her "on-the-verge-of-a nervous-breakdown" behavior, I found the mother she played both poignant and oddly beautiful at the same time. Obviously, her character doesn’t want Shaun to leave, and O’Hara projects that feeling with humor and pathos. And I always enjoy Lithgow’s (3rd Rock from the Sun) opinionated, bombastic delivery. As a self-absorbed entrepreneur, his character refuses to approve the son’s ambition to be a writer. "Only three people in the history of literature have made any money from their work --- Tom Clancy, Ann Rice, and Stephen King," he pontificates.
In their own way, almost everyone in Orange County cares about each other. And that made it easy for me to care about them. I wanted things to work out for each one, even for the selfish dad, a refreshing change of pace from my disdain for those Tenenbaums.
Hanks (Get Over It) and Fisk (Snow Day) make a sweet team. The young Hankster sounds like his famous father and looks like his mother, Rita Wilson. (His parents met while starring together in Volunteers, another very funny comedy.) Not a bad combination. It certainly works well for him in Orange County. Like his dad, he’s photogenic, fun to watch, and acting seems to come natural to him. Fisk also resembles her mother and appears just as genuine (although I can’t imagine her in something as dark as Carrie).
While I would delete some of the back-handed glorification of drug use in this flick as well as one unnecessary vomiting scene, the rest of the movie gave me a great deal of pleasure. Amusing cameos by Chevy Chase, Ben Stiller, and Kevin Kline added to my delight. Orange County also reminded me that when some dreams don’t come true, it’s not the end of the world.
(Released by MTV/Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for drug content, language, and sexuality.)