A review of  Orange County” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes



January is typically a cinematic graveyard, strewn with the skeletons of sub-par comedies and long-shelved action adventures.  The saving grace for “Orange County” (at least for me) is that it involves a painful process I’m currently struggling through with my high school senior – the thorny obstacle course known as college admissions.

It might be pushing it to call this a guilty pleasure, but there are plenty of laughs to be had in this loony teen farce.  Colin Hanks plays Shaun Brumder, a Southern California surfer whose life is turned around when he stumbles onto a pivotal novel by Stanford English Professor Marcus Skinner.  Determined to be a writer from that illustrious moment on, Shaun applies to Stanford and anxiously begins the senior rite of passage known as “waiting for the mail”.  When an unexpected rejection arrives in lieu of a glorious acceptance,  a dumbfounded Shaun begins searching for answers.

But where to search?  Calling on a well-placed connection (by means of a little adolescent blackmail), Shaun and groovy girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) arrange for an interview with a local Stanford alum/board member.  The meeting takes place at Shaun’s home, in the presence of his teetering-on-tipsy mom (Catherine O’Hara), a stoner brother perpetually recovering from the night before (Jack Black), and an incontinent stepfather.  On to Plan B – road trip to The Farm. 

The material isn’t new, but it’s punctuated by a series of genuinely funny set-ups made all the more lively by some serious comic talent.  O’Hara is stellar as a woman on the verge, and Black, as always, is foolishly irresistible. Hollywood’s celebrity offspring are well represented by the two leads:  Hanks (son of Tom), who is more likable than talented, and Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) whose refreshing wholesomeness lends honesty to a feeble storyline.  A relentless parade of surprise cameos (mum’s the word) liven up the action when the going gets tough.  “Orange County” isn’t going to win any prizes come year end, but it gets an A for amusing effort and for tackling current events that are near and dear to my heart.