It's not just a place. It's a state of mind.
Orange County could be seen as Hollywood nepotism at its finest. The director is Jake Kasdan, son of writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon). The stars include Colin Hanks, son of Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), and Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek (Carrie). Talk about some high-powered second generation genes! As a special treat, director Kasdan was able to snag some of Hollywood's funniest bit players in both small and big roles, including Chevy Chase (he's still working…yeah!), Lily Tomlin, Harold Ramis, Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow, Garry Marshall, and the irrepressible Jack Black (Shallow Hal, High Fidelity). Orange County is now on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks, Roswell) was just coasting though his slacker life as a surfer in Orange County, California, until the day he came along a book in the sand by famed author Martin Skinner. The novel reached down and touched something deep inside of Shaun—so stirring, in fact, that he makes the monumental decision to become a writer! And not just a writer, but a writer studying alongside Mr. Skinner at Stanford University! But the road to literary success won't be easy for poor old Shaun. First his application to Stanford is sent with a different student's transcript by a slightly odd guidance counselor (Tomlin), ensuring his rejection from the school! Now Shaun is in the horrid position of seeking help to get into school from his hopelessly dysfunctional family, including his stoned brother (Black), his overprotective mother (O'Hara), his distant workaholic father (Lithgow) and his devoted girlfriend Ashley (Fisk). Suddenly bad goes from worse as Shaun bounces from one disaster to another as he attempts to get into the school of his dreams and work along side his writing idol!
When I saw Orange County upon its theatrical release, it was like a billowing breath of fresh air. After having to sit though teen romps like American Pie, Saving Silverman, and Tomcats, I was relieved to find a movie that featured a sharp script and winning performances by the cast. While Orange County won't go down in history as a classic teen flick in the vein of Ferris Bueller's Day Off or The Breakfast Club, what it does it does well with zeal and lots of enthusiastic fun.
The most interesting aspect about the film is its cast. Colin Hanks bears such a striking resemblance to his father that it's sometimes a bit creepy. Does he have the range or depth of his Hollywood pop? It's still too early to tell. It will take a few more movies in different genres to find that out. In Orange County, Hanks works well as a genial surfer who's out to change the world one typeset word at a time. The nice thing about the screenplay is that it gives Shaun a character arc that works quite well—instead of being a typical cookie-cutter movie teen, Colin seems to have real troubles and emotions. It also helps that he never once is forced to make love to a fresh baked pastry. The two other supporting characters around Hanks is Schuyler Fisk as his girlfriend Ashley and Jack Black as his out-there brother Lance. Fisk radiates a charm and wisdom that makes her accessible and adorable. Jack Black is just plain funny as Lance, a guy with so little drive or ambition that he comes close to being a garden slug. The downside to Black's character: he spends much of the film running around in his whitey tidy underwear. I will have nightmares about this until the day that I die. The sub-supporting cast looks like a who's who of Hollywood's comedic talent. Some of them work great in their roles (including Harold Ramis as the dean of admissions and the always great Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow as Shaun's oddball parents) while others aren't given much to do (Chevy Chase as a fellow teacher and Garry Marshall as the head of Stanford aren't on screen long enough to be funny).
The script is peppered with some of the best dialogue in recent memory (as Shaun's dad talks to a client while at work he turns around and shouts headlong into his phone "If you do that, I will EAT YOUR FACE!"). Writer Mike White (who also makes a very humorous cameo in the film as a goofy English teacher) seems to have a keen ear for witty banter and sometimes outrageous situations. He does us all a big favor by keeping the fart, sperm, and poop jokes to the bare minimum. While some of the situations Shaun and his crew encounter might be a bit of a stretch, overall this is a plausible comedy with equal doses of heart and wit. I was glad that I paid to see this movie in the theaters, and was even happier to watch it again on DVD. Recommended.
Orange County is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount's work on this transfer is great, save for a few instances where I spotted some edge enhancement and a small amount of grain. Otherwise, the print looks sparklingly clean—solid colors, dark black levels, and even flesh tones abound. Paramount has done a fine job at making sure that everything is in working order in this picture.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround in English and French. I can't say that this is a reference quality mix, but then it doesn't have to be. Seeing as this is a dialogue driven comedy and not an effects laden flick, this soundtrack aptly supports the movie. Directional sounds are full and bombastic when needed (mostly when the film's pop soundtrack kicks in), and the range of he fidelity is very even. No distortion or hiss was heard in any of the dialogue, effects, or music. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
While Orange County may not be billed as a Paramount "Collector's Edition" DVD, it does include a few well produced supplements for the consummate Orange County fan. Starting off the extra features are four deleted scenes ("Lance and Durkett," "Shaun's Fantasy," "Ms. Cobb Fights Back," "Rehab") that are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. These deleted scenes are all fairly short, and while a few are amusing, I don't think they would have added much to the final film. Next up is a commentary track by director Jake Kasdan and writer Mike White. Talk about two guys with grating voices! This track does include a few nuggets of information, but overall there are many gaps of silence and Mr. Kasdan often complains about being compared to his father (he's a good director—live with it). A group of 15 interstitials are the best of the lot. Each of these short spots feature a wacky character from the film (many with Jack Black) doing nutty things like sticking licorice up their noses or comparing author J.D. Salinger to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
I highly recommend Orange County for those looking for laughs minus the gross out comedy we've come to expect from most teen movies. With a winning cast and a funny script, Orange County is well worth the visit. Paramount's work on this disc is nice, though a few more supplements wouldn't have hurt.
Orange County is free to go, dude! Surf's up!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Writer Mike White and Director Jake Kasdan
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