A Look Back: Orange County

Author Flannery O’Connor once said that anyone who has survived their childhood has more than enough material to become a writer. That’s certainly true of Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks), a surfer turned wannabe novelist, the main character of “Orange County,” directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence and that’s just getting started on the nepotism). Colin (son of Tom) plays a California teen, whose life acquires direction after his pal is killed in a surfing accident (this is played for laughs: everyone shows up at the funeral in black bathing suits) and he discovers a copy of a novel that inspires him to become a writer himself. Now all he does (as we’re told via voiceover) is write, despite lack of encouragement from his ditzy mother (Catherine O’Hara), oddball English teacher (Mike White, who also wrote the movie), stoner older brother (Jack Black) and pals. He does, however, find a source of support in his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek), who offers him the ultimate compliment, “This is so good – it could be a movie!”

Colin decides to apply to Stanford University because that is where the author of the life-changing book teaches. Colin also sends a copy of a story he wrote to the author himself, a smart move – had his guidance counselor not mixed up his transcript and as a result, wound up getting him rejected. After a disastrous meeting with a college official, he, Schuyler and Jack go on a road trip to Stanford, which surprisingly turns into one catastrophe  after another. Meanwhile back at home, his separated parents make some tentative stabs at being courteous to each other, in the name of helping the son get into college, though they, too, are only partly successful.

Ultimately, Colin must decide whether or not to attend Stanford or stay in Orange County. Using the logic that all writers really require is an abundance of material, he chooses the latter. This being a movie, everyone is overjoyed – no one rains on the parade by pointing out that there are plenty of weirdoes attending college, too. (Perhaps at the real Stanford there are, but the film version is filled with partying, drunk teens line dancing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Butterfly.”) “Orange County” is uneven humor-wise, but it has an engaging cast and has its heart in the right place, even if, like the characters, it isn’t perfect.

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