The Quarantine Stream: 'Orange County' Has an Indie Comedy Spirit and It's Totally Underrated

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Orange County

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) is a former surf-bro turned aspiring writer who is hellbent on getting out of the vapid, artificial confines of Orange County, California so he can go to Stanford University and study under his favorite writer. But when his guidance counselor accidentally sends the wrong transcript and he’s rejected from the school, he’s willing to try almost anything to get accepted, prompting a series of misadventures and mishaps.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: When Orange County arrived in 2002, it didn’t make much of a splash, disregarded as another average high school teen comedy among the likes American Pie. It was a box office success, largely thanks to the promotion by MTV, but with a critical score on Rotten Tomatoes that stands at 46%, it’s clear that it wasn’t received very well. But I’m here to put Orange County on the pedestal that it deserves, because if this movie had played the Sundance Film Festival, it would have been an indie sensation, and that vibe along with a fantastic ensemble cast makes it a movie that deserves much more respect.

Colin Hanks takes the lead in Orange County as Shaun Brumder, exhibiting much of the same young spirit and comedic timing that his father Tom Hanks did early in his career with films like Splash, Bachelor Party, The Burbs, and Big. His frantic desperation to leave Orange County and go to Stanford elevates some of the more formulaic elements of the film, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast.

The indie spirit is strong here, and the film has elements of a classic coming-of-age movie mixed with the familiar shenanigans of a high school comedy. There are kooky school staff members played by Chevy Chase, Mike White (who also wrote the script) and Lily Tomlin, overbearing parents portrayed by Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow, and of course, a perpetually under-the-influence brother played by Jack Black.

Plus, there’s a fun role for the late Harold Ramis, making one of his rare on-screen appearances in the early 2000s, and it’s just a delightful scene:

There seemed to be a lot of pressure on this movie to showcase the next generation of Hollywood talent. Colin Hanks was carrying the weight of being the son of Tom Hanks. His supportive girlfriend is played by Schuyler Fisk, the daughter of Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk. And the movie marked a breakthrough gig for director Jake Kasdan, son of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. Because of that, I think critics expected a lot more than Orange County could have ever given. But what it delivers is perfectly satisfying, especially for a kid living in a small Midwest town where nothing happens who just wanted to get out as soon as he could (that’s me!). There’s a little Orange County in everyone, and if you’ve never given this movie a chance, now is the time.

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