Orange County is the kind of good-natured movie that is impossible to dislike. Within five minutes of its running time, it had me comfortably settled in, and kept me mostly smiling, occasonally chuckling for most of its running time. And it had me laughing out loud at least once. Not a very impressive gag rate, but like I said, hard to dislike.
Shaun Brumder is a bright high school kid who is pretty content growing up to be the archetypical Californian surfer dude when one of his friends dies in a surfing accident. His death leaves Shaun in an introspective mood, which is when he finds a copy of Marcus Skinner’s book Straitjacket buried in the sand. He reads that book 52 times, and it kindles his passion to become a writer.
Aside: Something like this happened to me with Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A friend of mine gave it to me and told me I’d like it. I opened it one Sunday morning and it changed my life. I did a doctorate because I wanted to teach eventually, and that was because of that book. My thesis is dedicated: To Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who taught me to fly.
Shaun applies to Stanford, wanting to study under Skinner, but gets turned down coz his school counselor accidentally sent in the wrong transcript. After an attempt to win over one of the trustees ends up as a comedy of errors, Shaun decides to make a trip to Stanford and give it a shot. He is accompanied by his girlfriend Ashley and his perpetually stoned brother Lance. What happens there forms the rest of the story.
The performances of the two leads – Colin Hanks and Schulyer Fisk – is pretty decent. Both actors are at ease before the camera and with each other. Given their pedigree (Hanks is the son of two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks; Fisk is the daughter of one of this this year’s strongest Oscar contenders, Sissy Spacek), it would probably be unfair to begin comapring them with their parents yet, but I’d say they have the potential to go far. Ditto for Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan).
But all said and done, the best performance is that of Jack Black, who plays Lance. He was a riot in High Fidelity, and did even better in Shallow Hal, but neither of those performances even comes close to his incendiary comic turn in this one. Playing a man who probably stays sober for about one and a half minutes every day and has a knack of screwing up virtually everything he lays hands on, he had me hooked the minute he appeared on screen.
The really big laugh comes in a scene where Lance breaks into the admissions office at Stanford and is caught by the secretary. For reasons best understood only by her, the secretary decides to have sex with him right there, in the office. Maybe secretaries in admissions offices don’t have much of a social life, who knows? Anyway, in the post-coital afterglow, they light up a joint (Lance obviously is never without one) and Lance carelessly throws it in the trash. Considering that this is an office and the trash is mostly paper, the results are, well, predictable. All of this is mildly funny, but I guess what gave it that extra edge was the sight of Jack Black waddling out of the burning building in his underwear stoned out of his mind.
Another scene I liked a lot was the penultimate scene, wherein Shaun buries the book back in the sand as he found it, hoping some other kid would find it. It reminded me of a nice little book called “Slow Waltz on Cedar Bend” by Robert James Waller that I read a long time ago. It didn’t have the magic of “Bridges of Madison County”, but I liked it all the same. The best part of that experience was how I got the book. A friend of mine gave it to me, and told me she was given it by a couple she knew well. They had bought the book, loved it, and decided to start a chain read. They passed it on to her with instructions to pass it on to someone she thought would like it, and give that person the same instructions. I have no idea where that book is now, but I’d like to think it’s not languishing in some bookshelf somewhere but is still being passed on.
ps: This is my hundredth post, by the way. Frankly, I didn’t think it would get this far. But it’s been fun doing it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.