Orange County Review
Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks), a bright young student who aspires to be a writer, can’t quite understand it when he is rejected by his first choice, university. Checking with the admissions office at his school he finds that they mixed up his test scores with another, less qualified, student and it seems they can’t do anything about it. Taking matters into his own hands, he seeks the help of his loving girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk), his over-worked father (John Lithgow), his over-bearing mother (Katherine O’Hara) and his stoner brother (Jack Black) in order to get on to Stanford university’s acceptance list one way or another.
I’m sure the young Colin Hanks hates to be compared to his father Tom, but he shouldn’t because even though he lacks some of the lovable comic tendencies his Dad brought to the screen so vibrantly in the eighties, he retains some of his physical quirks (they run in exactly the same fashion) and shows early signs that he has an excellent comedic future ahead. At times you look at Hanks Jr. and see his father, giving the film a little bit of nostalgia, reminding you of Tom Hanks’ early career in such gems as Bachelor Party, Big, Splash and The Burbs’. Colin seems at ease with the material throughout and gives the character an element of innocence while retaining enough integrity so that we believe he could take such measures to get into his first choice college.
Orange County is a little bit of an oddity as it appears on the outside as a typical teen comedy but on the inside it is much more. Writer Mike White and director Jake Kasdan came from television backgrounds, which might at first suggest the film maybe pretty standard in terms of story and execution but thankfully it is more than that. They manage to avoid the trap of making the film feel like a string of comedy sketches drawn together by making sure they maintain good, rounded characters throughout and with the very short running time of about 75 minutes plus credits, the pace never lags. Writer White has written an extremely funny and intelligent script that works most of its jokes off the quirks of the many differing characters. His main achievement has to be the likeable lead character in Shaun Brumder, who you cannot but feel sorry for when his mother tries to sabotage his chances of getting into university by getting drunk in front of one of the board members at Stanford, and reminiscing about the time she caught her husband, chained to a bed with another woman. It is refreshing to see a film carried by its teenage stars which doesn’t rely on the types of jokes found in the likes of American Pie and Road Trip. The film prospers from the supporting players who all seem to have something going on in their life. Shaun’s mother is a raging alcoholic who can’t come to terms with life without her son…who does just about everything for her. Shaun’s Dad, now living with a beautiful twenty-odd year old in a mansion by the beach, with five cars in the driveway, and a successful business, is as miserable as his ex-wife. And Shaun’s brother, player by the wonderful Jack Black, can’t stop popping pills, and has an unhealthy inability to put clothes on. While misery seems inevitable, White and Kasdan look at these people through the eyes of Shaun, and we see that through the trouble there is light at the end of the tunnel. The director keeps things bright and doesn’t let the dark side cloud the comedy. If anything, through such character inefficiencies, White and Kasdan push the jokes further to play on them.
The cast is unanimously superb through the main leads to the cameos by Chevy Chase, Ben Stiller, Harold Ramis and Kevin Kline. John Lithgow goes from lethargic to excellent, obviously enjoying the more edgier comedy. Catherine O’Hara is wonderfully drunk throughout with her greasy, unconditioned hair and slurring dialogue. Harold Ramis is a nice inclusion without ever reminding me of his heyday, while Kevin Kline is excellent as a washed out writer. Shaun’s girlfriend played by Schyular Fisk is solid in her role, while writer Mike White cameos as an English teacher and is surprisingly very funny. Unsurprisingly however, he gives himself the best lines in the film but thankfully he delivers them with comic assurance. I’ve saved the best for last with Ben Stiller popping up as a fireman and reminding me a little bit of his cameo in TV sitcom Friends and Chevy Chase is hilariously dry in his two minute part as a horny teacher. Last but not least, Jack Black who makes up for his disappointing turn in Saving Silverman by being simply chokingly funny. At times you find yourself having to go back to view the scene again because you’ve laughed the whole way through it, and missed all the important stuff. He is a great comedian and with the leading role in Shallow Hal his career looks to be taking a drastic step up the Hollywood ladder.
Orange County is an enjoyable, funny comedy. It is filled to the gills with great cameos as mentioned, but this shouldn’t put you off, as the film doesn’t rely on them. Supported by good direction by Kasdan who makes sure the characters take center stage, a wonderfully quirky script, and an enjoyable pop-rock soundtrack, the film deserves to find the audience that has sadly passed it by.
The picture is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. For a new release I wasn’t surprised to find an immaculate quality to the picture. It is crystal clear throughout, showing crisp clarity and colour detail. The photography is bright and lively through the film and this is shown wonderfully on the DVD. The print used is on the whole excellent, but there is some grain evident, which I’m assuming is a side effect of the film stock used.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also very good – crisp and clear throughout. The sub-woofer is used quite a lot, especially when the music soundtrack surrounds the speakers. The dialogue is predominantly mono, with the majority of the surround detail coming from non-dialogue driven scenes and when the music soundtrack plays.
There aren’t many added features to enjoy but what are here are very good. The deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and are the usual ‘cut for timing/pacing’ issues. They are however quite funny, and when a deleted scene contains Jack Black, you can’t just discard it as not worthy of viewing. Four deleted scenes are on the disc in total. Next up we have the ‘Interstitials’, which are semi-teaser trailers for the movie run during advert breaks on MTV. Some are not so funny, some certainly are, and are worth checking out. Don’t be put off by the first few not forcing even a chuckle because it is the later ones that are absolutely hilarious. Apart from the theatrical trailer the only other feature is an audio commentary by director Jake Kasdan and Mike White. This is an enjoyable listen as the two speak like close friends about the film offering some insight into the writing and production process, as well as some behind-the-scenes trivia.
This isn’t the typical ‘teen’ comedy we’ve come accustomed to lately, which is good news because there’s way too many of them. Both the director and writer have done a good job at bringing some quirky characters to life, and stayed away from the usual stereotypes. This is a funny film that should brighten up your mood if nothing else, and is presented on a technically superb disc.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:33:19