To judge a movie by its previews is to judge a book by its cover. The clichÃ©, however tired, is accurate. Therefore, one cannot judge Orange County to be another dilly-bopper teen movie set in California by its commercials alone. While it is set in California and it involves teens, it is filled with deep human truths.
Shaun(Colin Hanks) is a young man who wants to go to Stanford in hopes of becoming a writer and escaping the people in his life who are anything but sane. A series of comical blunders happen which, to Shaun’s benefit, keep him out of Stanford. His college counselor mixes up the transcripts and his older brother (the shaggy guy in the underwear with the pot belly, played by Jack Black) has an incident involving fire and the Stanford admissions building, to name a few.
Shaun is a very smart guy who is confused. He is chasing a fallacy: that going to college will be the promised land, a haven of sorts in which everyone, including the prettiest girls, are as adept and intelligent as he is. Soon he learns that his fallacy and expectations are unreal.
For instance, he meets a very fine girl who is reading a Faulkner book and appears to enjoy it. She invites him to a party where she dodges his attempt at discussing her book, and when she hears her favorite song, she and her friends begin dancing in a manner identical to that of the cheerleaders who attend Shaun’s high school. He realizes that college is not the haven he imagined.
How many of us have had a moment exactly like that? A moment where we find that we are surrounded by people who pay only lip service to learning and enlightenment, and feel awkward. You know when you try to talk about something interesting only to find no one else shares your interest. I have encountered this uncomfortable reality many times myself.
By far the most hilarious scene in the movie is when Lonny comes into the living room when Shaun is meeting the Stanford brass clad only in his underwear and begging people for clean urine. He says “I need somebody’s piss or I’m going back to jail. My parole officer is going to be here any minute.”
Unfortunately, one of the Stanford guests has mistaken the old sample as Chardonnay. The Stanford brass is not impressed, to put it mildly.
In the end, Shaun finds that the inspiration he needs as a writer is found by being around his not-so-sane family and friends. After deciding that a good writer can live anywhere, he decides to attend college in Orange County. Lucky is he because he finds out early just how far off his expectations were and how most people don’t change between high school and college. He is sadder but wiser with this realization, and his albatross is removed.
This movie has it all. I really liked Kevin Kline, who played a writing teacher and really helped Shaun see the light. And of course, John Lithgow and Catherine O’Hara, who played Shaun’s dysfunctional but very supportive parents. I give this one five charred buildings out of five.