Southern California surfer-dude Shaun Brumbder is all about surfing and partying until one of his good friends dies in a surfing accident and Shaun begins to question the point of his life which is all surfing and partying. Then he finds a book that changes his life and he decides he wants to become a writer. The problem? He lives in the rich LA suburban community of Orange County, where people are more obsessed with pop culture and themselves than being happy and Shaun feels he needs to get out to go become a writer and study under his favorite author at Stanford University. (which is about 6 hours north of where he lives)
Again, why is this great? First and foremost, we have the script. It's smart, but still wacky as a teen comedy needs to be. The characters aren't nitwits wander around aimlessly or purposely insult themselves by being complete morons. There's no pointless wandering for a car or bathing in urine. It knows what it is, a teen comedy, but it's smart enough to know it doesn't have to be grossly offensive or incredibly stupid to be funny. The story has a heart, and the wacky antics all support it.
Next is the cast. Without the perfect cast this movie could've been a dud. The main character is played by Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) in his first major starring role and he nails it. He plays the smart surfer-dude with a dream perfectly and he deals and reacts to his environment and the rest of the superb cast as he should. If you really watch you can find a little bit of his father in him, but mostly he is his own actor, and a good one at that. He's very natural playing a realistic character. His girlfriend is played by Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek), and she's a very positive, caring California girl. Her character wasn't as strong as Hanks', but she was mainly meant to be more of his sidekick than counterpart. Jack Black was the reason I saw this movie in theaters, and he was as awesome as usual (up until recently, where's he has just been taking whatever is thrown at him seemingly) as the unmotivated stoner older brother Hanks' character Shaun doesn't want to be. He's the worst example in the world, and is ultimately part of Shaun's motivation to not become like him. Next are Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow, who both have seemingly come into their prime closer to middle age. They play off of each other wonderfully as Shaun's selfish parents that live the rich LA life and feel like their son owes them something. Chevy Chase is great as the school principle even though the role is small, he gets a laugh or two as he is bound to do. The teacher Mr. Burke is played by Mike White who strangely hits home as a California high school teacher more into pop culture than teaching, and he also wrote the fantastic script. Also, he is just another character in the long line of people hold Shaun down. Leslie Mann and George Murdock have funny bit parts as Shaun's step-parents who are also completely out of touch with the world. Kevin Kline has a great bit part as the author who inspires Shaun to become a writer and tells him exactly what he wants to hear.
After that, this is just quality film-making by good people. Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan) directed this and his style shines all the way through. I first became a fan of his after his work on the TV show Freaks and Geeks, which is rather similar to this movie in that it deals with the wackiness of teen life in a knowing way. The writer Mike White also wrote a few episodes of Freeks and Geeks, which if you haven't seen, I highly suggest you do as it just hit DVD. Kasdan knows where to put the laughs, but he also knows how to moderate them and not make it a wacky teen orgy fest like the American Pie movies which are motivated only by teen libidos rather than real ambitions. The movie has a good story, and it is well told.
In the end, there is nothing groundbreaking in Orange County. It's a pretty straightforward teen movie with a realistic plot and great performances. With another American Pie-type cast with emphasis on the goofiness, this movie would've been a low-grade teen sex flick. Instead we have a real story about ambition and teen life with a few falls off of roofs and vases falling on heads. 8/10