Orange County (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This movie was created by some of the greatest movie names ever assembled: Hanks, Spacek, Kasdan. Unfortunately, their contribution was reproductory. The film stars Colin Hanks (Tom's boy) and Schuyler Fisk (Sissy Spacek's daughter), and was directed by Jake Kasdan (Lawrence's son). Ben Stiller, already a bigger star than his father Jerry, also adds to the second generation team.

There are also plenty of funny people in this cast who are actual celebrities and not merely the spawn of celebrities. This list includes - Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Harold Ramis, Jack Black (doing a perfect John Belushi impersonation), Jane Addams, John Lithgow, and Kevin Kline.

NUDITY REPORT

There is no female nudity, but Jane Addams appears in her panties and a t-shirt with no bra.

Jack Black spends most of the movie in his underpants, and his butt is exposed briefly.

It should be good, right? Well, it isn't great but, yes, it is pretty damned good. It does suffer from a complete lack of originality - high achiever fails to get into Stanford because his high school guidance counselor sends out the wrong transcript, hilarity is supposed to ensue. Eventually he decides to go to Stanford to explain the situation. If you overlook the stale premise, however, there's a lot of fun here.

My favorite schtick involves the high school English teacher who tries just a bit too hard to bring high-falutin' literature to the unwashed high school masses.

teacher: Now we're gonna discuss Romeo and Juliet. Who do we think of when we hear that term?

student: Claire Danes.

teacher: Yes, who else.

another student: Leonardo Dicaprio?

teacher: Yes, anyone else? Well there is another name associated with that play who is almost as famous, in his own way, as Leonardo Dicaprio. I'm talking about William Shakespeare, and some great movies are made from his writing - Hamlet, West Side Story, Waterworld, The Talented Mr Ripley, Chocolat ....

Another time, the teacher suggests that J.D. Salinger can be likened to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, because they wrote a great masterpiece, Good Will Hunting, then never wrote again.

Despite the fact that MTV produced this movie, there was some funny, intelligent, truthful material sprinkled through this film. In many ways, it reminded me of the insightful movies that Cusack and Broderick made when they were kids. Its interweaving of conventional "teen movie" material with absurdist humor, surrealism and insightful warmth reminded me of the Cusack classic "Better off Dead".

And how many teen films with stoner and surfer jokes discuss (intelligently!) the inherently conflicted relationship between writers and their places of origin, like Joyce, Faulkner, and Tolstoy? Ultimately the kid has to face the following questions. Isn't Orange County, including his crazy family and friends, all part of what makes him what he is? Should he leave that to go to Stanford? Would William Faulkner have written A Light in August if he had left the South for good at age 18 in order to study at Cambridge? Those are intelligent questions that involve the youthful audience in the actual process of thinking and coming to grips with genuine feelings (gasp!).

DVD info from Amazon.

Commentary by Jake Kasdan and writer Mike White
Two deleted scenes with director's and writer's commentary
Fifteen promotional spots - some of them funnier than the movie
Widescreen anamorphic format (1.85)

Don't worry about some of the bad reviews. Don't forget this film was made partially to piss off  reviewers and third-rate English teachers and anyone who likes Matt Damon or Leonardo Dicaprio. That's not a strategy guaranteed to win points from the same reviewers who think Good Will Hunting is a genuine, believable story.

This is only Jake Kasdan's second film, and I like them both very much. (The other is Zero Effect, with Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller as a modern Holmes and Watson.). Orange County would be remembered as a classic if it had been made in 1972, but thirty years later it is too derivative and familiar to be hailed as genius. But it is still a pleasant experience which rises above genre fare. Anyway, Kasdan is still barely out of boyhood. Give him time. He should be a good one with a truly independent voice. 

The Critics Vote

  • General super-panel consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: a winner. It was already profitable at the box office before any other sources of revenue. budget $18 million, gross $41 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Way better than a typical teen movie. A genuinely intelligent film which can be enjoyed by people outside the target market.

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