Orange County
review by Gregory Avery, 11 January 2002

Orange County, the first new film of the year (no, I haven't seen Impostor, yet), turns out to be a little mild, genial, and, at least from this seat in the house, perfectly fine.

Shaun (Colin Hanks), a southern California high school senior, is aghast to learn that his chances for getting into Stanford -- and, thereby, becoming a professional writer -- have been dashed due to a clumsy mistake in paperwork. He then attempts, over the course of several days, to rectify this error, with help from his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, who has the same glorious smile as her mother, Sissy Spacek), and his older brother Lance (Jack Black), who has a propensity for speed the same way Ernest Thesiger's character in The Bride of Frankenstein had a weakness for gin, and at one point inadvertently causes a building to burn to the ground. (Asked by a fireman why he's only wearing underdrawers, Lance replies, quite naturally, that he took his trousers off so he could run faster through the flames.)

The picture is modest, light, enjoyable, genuinely funny in parts, and displays a good amount of comic sense. (There is, at least, one urine joke, though, and a fleeting gag involving a dog, for anyone pining for such material.) As one of the characters says about Shaun's autobiographical writing, the filmmakers seem to genuinely like their characters, here, and the picture is more observant about them than you might expect when first going in. In a role where a comedian could easily have run-amuck to the point of intense irritation, Jack Black does a certain amount of running-amuck (his character is, after all, receiving pharmacological impetus in some scenes), but he knows how far to go and when to pull back. (He does not seem to mind spending a great deal of the picture in Jockey shorts, a feat many other actors have demurred from, for reasons I will gently not go into, here.) Colin Hanks, as Shaun, gives a fully engaging performance and shows definite comic verve: you really do end up wanting to see him succeed in his sometimes insurmountable task by the end of the picture.

The director Jake Kasdan has also assembled a fairly impressive amount of talent in the supporting roles, including John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, Garry Marshall, Judith Ivey, Harold Ramis (who's hilarious), Jane Adams (ditto, as a Stanford admissions office worker), and the ever-amazing Catherine O'Hara (and, in unbilled appearances, Kevin Kline and Ben Stiller), and they're all deployed to good use. The only dark spot in the picture, and I wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise, is Chevy Chase, who makes a one-scene appearance near the beginning of the film as a high school principal: he never appears in the same shot with any of the actors whom he's supposed to be in the scene with, and he appears on-camera with dead eyes. It's a stinging moment: this is what twenty-five years of bad movies and bad career choices will get you.

Directed by:
Jake Kasdan

Starring:
Colin Hanks
Jack Black
Schuyler Fisk
Catherine O'Hara
John Lithgow
Jane Adams
Lily Tomlin

Written by:
Mike White

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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