Criticism

Orange County

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If you’ve already seen the trailer for Orange County, do everything you can to forget what you’ve witnessed.  In a world where even the most dreadful of movies can be made to seem appealing by a three minute clip, Orange County is an anomaly:  it’s actually much better than its preview would lead you to believe.  A boisterous coming-of-age tale about a boy’s attempt to get into the college of his dreams, the movie proves that well-written comedy transcends demographics; with an intelligent script by Chuck and Buck writer Mike White and thoughtful direction by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence), this “teen” flick puts most of the recent lame-ass, youth-oriented comedies (and quite a few adult ones) to shame by combining the expected lowbrow humor with well-rounded characters and real emotional heft.

Colin Hanks (son of Tom and every bit as cute and charming) plays Shaun, high school senior and would-be novelist.  Convinced that in order to succeed as a writer he must get as far away as possible from his deranged family, burnout friends and stifling hometown, he applies to Stanford University to follow in the footsteps of his favorite author.  Upon learning his scatterbrained school counselor accidentally sent the wrong transcripts with his application and that he hasn’t been accepted into the university, Shaun decides to take matters into his own hands.  Along with his wasteoid brother, Lance (Jack Black) and girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek and just as lovely), he heads to the school to plead his case.

An all-star lineup of comedic heavy-hitters is on hand along the way, including Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, John Lithgow, Garry Marshall, Ben Stiller and Kevin Kline.  As Shaun’s drunken, self-pitying mother, Catherine O’Hara (most recently of Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show) steals every scene she’s in.  But it’s Jack Black, often in his pee-stained skivvies and little else, who shines at the center of this comic solar system. After playing it straight in Shallow Hal, he’s back to his old pot-bellied self, a hyperactive whirling dervish who throws himself into his role with gusto.  In a pitch perfect performance, Black proves himself a John Belushi for the new millennium. And in a trick worthy of David Copperfield, Black somehow manages to be completely repulsive and strangely adorable at the same time.   It’s truly a remarkable feat, solidifying Black’s place as rightful heir to Belushi’s maniacal throne.

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