Sunday, April 8, 2012

Just Another Teen Movie: Orange County

The Good: Amusing In parts, Cameos, Moments of acting
The Bad: Much of the plot, Predictable character arcs, Oversimplified resolutions
The Basics: A surprisingly disappointing film, Orange County follows a witless quest to get into Stanford or maybe learn the obvious.

When I sat down to Orange County, I had high hopes. I had seen some extended trailers for it and I was excited; it looked intelligent and funny. Within a half hour into the flick, I was fast on my way to being disappointed. It appeared early on that the eighty-some minute film put its best moments forth in the three minute trailer.

Orange County follows Shaun Brumder, A-student, aspiring author on his quest to get into Stanford. What ought to be an easy task for this brilliant young man is thwarted by a dimwitted guidance counselor who mistakenly sends the wrong transcript to the college. Shaun then goes on a road trip with his drug addled brother Lance and idealistic girlfriend Ashley to Stanford to make the case for Shaun's admission in person. And the film goes down from there. In the process of trying to set things right, Shaun meets his idol, author Marcus Skinner, Ashley drugs the dean of admissions and Lance burns down the admissions building.

Sigh. I had such hopes for this film. In truth, this film begins with an intelligent premise and a slick sense of humor and quickly degenerates into an oversimplistic fantasy of a teenager whose from a broken home. I don't mean Shaun, though his parents are divorced, I mean the author of this film. All of the conflicts in Orange County are resolved quickly and without any real insight into the human condition.

The purpose of the film seems to be to get Shaun into Stanford and Shaun's journey into understanding that Orange County is where he truly needs to be. But the premise is set up for a film far more intelligent than that. That is, a kid as bright as Shaun ought to have figured out by the end of high school that kids everywhere are essentially the same. It comes as a revelation to Shaun that Stanford students listen to the same music, feel the same way about literature and dress essentially the same as those in Orange County. Stanford doesn't equal deep and intellectual and a student as bright as Shaun ought to have realized this long before now.

Instead, this seems to come as a tremendous revelation to Shaun and it comes across as silly to the viewer. Shaun ends up appearing far more dimwitted than reasonable. And his conflict with Stanford is too easily resolved. In fact, all conflicts are too simply and neatly tied up by the end. Shaun's parents, divorced for some time, have one affair and decide to get back together, Shaun's father donates a vast amount of money to Stanford to get Shaun in and Ashley simply asks Shaun to stay and he acquiesces. None of the conflicts seem to have any magnitude as they are all simply resolved along the path of least resistance.

Or the path that requires the least drama and sensibility. The plot with Shaun's parents is especially troubling for anyone looking for anything intelligent here.

Equally disturbing is the acting in Orange County. The cast is made up of actors playing characters and a pool of cameos. Colin Hanks does a competent job as Shaun, creating a strange mix of apathy and manic devotion to the concept of Stanford. Jack Black does a wonderful job as Lance, making the drugged out stereotype funny and almost realistic.

Schuyler Fisk, who plays Ashley, is said to be one of today's hottest stars. After Orange County, I'm not sure why. Outside bringing her fabulous hair to the project, she added nothing to Ashley that wasn't on the page and didn't seem to radiate anything. In fact, John Lithgow had far more screen presence, infusing facial gestures and body language with lines that could easily have come across as canned to create one of the film's most noteworthy characters.

And then there are the cameos. Garry Marshall, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline and Ben Stiller all appear in the film. Now, I'm not an idiot; those are all actors, not characters. Too bad they don't actually work that way in the movie. In Orange County, these brief roles appear and the top name actors who play them bring nothing to the roles besides themselves. So, for instance, when Ben Stiller appears as a fireman, the scene plays as Ben Stiller in a fireman's uniform. It's still Ben Stiller. And Stiller is fine, but he's not playing a fireman, he's playing Ben Stiller. And so on with all of these cameos.

That's disappointing, but typical for a film that sells itself well in the three minute version, but fails to deliver for the bulk of the picture. Orange County is plagued by cliches of the irresponsible older brother, the overachieving father and the kooky girlfriend and resolutions that are disproportionately simple to the problems.

That's not to say it's all bad. The film is funny and I found myself laughing at several points, especially near the beginning. And if I have nothing else to do, it's likely I'll even watch the flick again. But I'll always be disappointed because I was convinced this was going to break the mold and be something worth seeing over and over again. Instead, I got the same old comedy. I'd rather watch Dogma. Hell, even Mallrats has a leg up on this.

For other works with John Lithgow, please visit my reviews of:
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Leap Year
Confessions Of A Shopaholic
Terms Of Endearment


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of them!

© 2012, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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