Just when you thought teen comedies had run its course, a movie comes along to prove that there's still juice left in the genre. Orange County proves something else as well; movies aimed at teenagers do not need to be gross.
Meet Shaun (Colin Hanks - yes, Tom Hanks' son), an aspiring writer who lives in what he considers to be the worst place for writing, Orange County. His friends are morons, his family is psychotic, and all he wants to do is get into Stanford, to get away from it all. Of course, when his counselor sends Stanford the wrong transcript, it's up to him, his girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk - yes, Sissy Spacek's daughter), and druggie brother (Jack Black - yes, Jack Black) to personally oversee his acceptance.
The plot is pretty straightforward, but thankfully different from most other teen comedies. For starters, Shaun isn't seeking "the love of his life;" he already has a girlfriend, and he's quite content with her. Second, there are very few gross-out antics. Sure, there are some mild things here and there, and Jack Black walking around in his underwear could make anyone squirm, but the humor is pretty civilized. What really makes Orange County stick out is a combination of a great script and great characters, which, most people would agree, are the most essential things for a movie.
Shaun is a smart guy, but he's not perfect. He likes to party, surf, and do other things with his stupid friends. He isn't one of those stereotypical characters that fits into any clique; he's a real, ordinary guy. Colin Hanks does an excellent job fitting in the role; he's not ugly, but he's not particularly handsome, either (like his father), and he knows how to act. I really connected with this character. Fisk's character is also believable as the supportive yet worried girlfriend (she doesn't want her boyfriend moving away); again, she isn't ugly, but she isn't gorgeous, and she has real problems. Black's is the most goofy character; in fact, he's a little over-the-top at times. He's funny, but he doesn't always seem to fit in with the mood of the film. Of course, if he hadn't been in the movie, it would have made half the box office gross. Shaun's father (John Lithgow) is comical, his mother (Catherine O'Hara) is psychotic, and Harold Ramis is pretty funny when acting high.
The first half of Orange County is definitely funnier than the second half, but it is consistently good from beginning to end. The first forty minutes or so shines because Shaun is in Orange County for the most part; the movie is sort of critical of the area, making fun of the superficial features of it all. The best scene is where Shaun's English teacher starts talking to the class about Shakespeare, but he talks more about Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo and Juliet) than about anything else.
Orange County is a hilarious movie with a good script and fun characters. Hopefully the success of this film will convince studios to start putting out some quality teen films, that don't just rely on gross out scenes.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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