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Shaun Brumder is a local surfer kid from Orange County who dreams of going to Stanford to become a writer and to get away from his disfunctional family household. Except Shaun runs into one complication after another starting when his application is rejected after his dim-witted guidance counselor sends the wrong application. So, Shaun goes to great lengths with a little help from his girlfriend Ashley and his drugged-out loser brother Lance to get into Stanford any way they see fit. Written by
Orange County is not as funny as American Pie, but that's all right. The movie has its share of ridiculous, over-the-top gags (A dean of admissions high on ecstasy, for example), but it's far more interested in its characters than its jokes, a refreshing change of pace for this type of movie. The material's supported by some very good performances, especially from leads Colin Hanks and Jack Black.
Hanks plays Shaun, a high school senior who desperately wants to escape his horrible upper middle class life in Orange County for literary pursuits under his favorite writer, Marcus Skinner, who is a professor at Stanford University. But his guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) botches his application, leaving Shaun relying on the assistance of his stoner brother Lance (Black) and his selfish father (John Lithgow).
You have no doubt heard that Colin Hanks is the son of famous acting father Tom. Even if connections got him the job, you cannot deny that he puts in a strong lead performance (Even if it does have some echoes of his dad's likeable everyman persona). Comedy stars like Catherine O'Hara, Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall, all put it nice small pieces, but it is Jack Black who owns most of the funniest moments in the film. His mere presence in a scene can make it funny; often he brings out laughs with a look or a eyebrow twitch.
The film gets a little sappy and formulaic as it heads toward its conclusion; Shaun's reaction when he meets his hero is spot-on, but their conversation about his story feels wrong; and the inevitable ending is what you pretty much expect as soon as that initial rejection letter arrives at Shaun's door. Professor Skinner put it best; "My one complaint - You need an ending."
Orange County needed a stronger, more unusual ending to compliment the offbeat, but very enjoyable vibe the rest of the of the movie gives off. Still, I found myself completely entertained until the end, and left really appreciating the fine writing and acting, and even wishing the movie was a little longer. And that doesn't happen too often.
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