Forget She's All That and its brethren. Back in the 1980s, the maestro of teen films -- John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) -- taught us to produce films in the finicky teen-comedy genre. His simple rule -- a single motivation is required for all main characters: lots and lots of angst. Just create a simple story of teenagers yearning to escape the downtrodden existence of childhood and the microcosm of high school, and success is surely guaranteed.
Life has been good for Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) in simple Orange County, California. He's a good kid with a love of catching waves, a sweet girlfriend, and despite his eccentric family, life is always like riding six-foot waves that curl for days. After a freak surfing accident drowns one of his best buds one summer, Shaun begins to reassess his life and inspiration strikes one day in the form of a novel by Marcus Skinner. He decides to become a writer, trades in his surfboard, improves his grades, and waits for his acceptance letter from Stanford College to study under his new idol Skinner. But when Stanford rejects him due to a guidance counselor's mistake, Shaun only has 24 hours to fix the problem and get the hell out of O.C. to follow his dreams and work out the angst.
By following this straightforward story, Mike White (author of the infamous buddy pic Chuck & Buck and writer of the defunct TV show Freaks and Geeks) has crafted together a wonderful ensemble comedy in a 24-hour timeframe. All of the humorous trials and tribulations Shaun confronts in his quest are brought together perfectly: A coked up and pyromaniac brother named Lance (Jack Black), an overprotective and alcoholic mother (Catherine O'Hara), the emotionally displaced father figure (John Lithgow), and Harold Ramis (of Ghostbusters fame) on ecstasy all contribute to bushels of laughs.
Under the direction of Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect), Orange County crackles with sweeping camera movements and a zippy storytelling pace. Numerous cameos from the likes of Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, and Garry Marshall bring sparkling life to quirky characters throughout the film. But the magic of the film lies in the acting debut of Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks), especially when paired on screen with Jack Black. Together, Hanks and Black create the crucible of the film's message, as Black's continuously aborted attempts to help secure his brother's future are downright hilarious and unconventional. Black is a master at the art of playing the quintessential loser of the century and, as usual, he's the highlight of the film.
The only downfall of the picture lies predictably in its final minutes. So much energy seems to be focused on the characters that the journey is almost forgotten. The Breakfast Club managed to get both character and plot right, and it's a classic. Orange County has half the equation.
The DVD has a few extra scenes (which pad out the blink-and-you-miss-it 80-minute film a bit), a wry but spare commentary from Kasdan and White, and 15 interstitial commercials (most featuring original footage not in the film).
Orange you glad he didn't say banana?