Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Real Stars Of Orange County

It's not often you see a film that manages to be funny, sweet and honest about the craziness of being a teenager and that's why the coming of age story of Shaun Brumder is such an unusual and rare find.  Orange County is a 2002 American comedy film directed by Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect). It stars Colin Hanks, as Shaun, and Jack Black, as his older brother. Weirdly, it slightly reminded me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I don't know why, I haven't watched it for ages but something about the style felt similar, maybe the fact that the protagonists are both semi-screw-ups. Shaun also reminds me of Sam Temple, from the book series Gone; in that he is also "a surfer who didn't hang out with surfers." Like Sam, Shaun is a bit of a loner and different to the other kids at his high -school, but he does not have any super-powers, other than the ability to string together a better sentence than his English teacher. The theme is also interesting as it's neither a "college" movie (Legally Blonde, The Social Network) or a typical "high-school" movie (Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You) but is about the transition between the two and the struggle to find your own identity amidst all of the chaos. On a more basic level, the film deals with one crazy day in the life of a Californian surfer attempting to get into Stanford to study with writer Marcus Skinner.

It was one of those films I sat glued to from beginning to end and will leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth. I would describe it as a feel-good movie, as you will find yourself feeling hopeful and uplifted by the end; both by the resolution of the plot and the charmingly dysfunctional family dynamic but also by the potential of Shaun to transform his life and achieve his dreams. The bright, sunny beach setting is also a beautiful backdrop for the characters, some of whom are less-than beautiful both inside and out, and the stunning scenery contrasts to the visible imperfections in Shaun's life.

It's a very classically American film, set in one of the most stereotypical US states and essentially, as it's about the failure of Shaun's dream, is a film about the failure of the modern American Dream. Shaun is portrayed as the "everyman" figure, stifled by the society he lives in. He is a typical American kid; wise-cracking and cynical but sweet in his struggle to escape Orange County. The obstacles put in his way utilise stereotypes such as the moronic college counsellor and the free-loading brother to comment on Shaun's alienation from the people around him. He views them as idiotic at the start of the film but gradually comes to realise their worth, both as people and writing material and in this way he solves his internal conflict with his hometown.

The dialogue and characterisation are smart and snappy and the physical comedy in some of the scenes is laugh-out-loud funny. Overall, the film comes across as a perfect example of a well-written script. It's properly entertaining, hysterically funny at times and is a genuinely good film, in the truest sense of the word. There's suspense in the plot, building to an anti-climactic ending and throughout the film the characters are frustrated and this creates tension in the relationships between Shaun and his mad parents and crazy surfer buddies. At the end of the story, there is closure because the loose ends do get tied up, but not in the irritating way which leaves you with nothing to wonder about the character's futures. There is also a really heart-warming scene at the end, where the plot comes full-circle back to where Shaun started out. I won't spoil it, but it leaves you with a sense of the film's message continuing and being passed onto another high school kid with no idea about the rest of his life.
I would give this film a lot of stars and recommend it hugely. It's really enjoyable and, undeservedly, probably less well-known than many movies of its genre.

Jessica x

(All pictures from Google search.)


  1. I don't remember much about this movie but I do remember I really enjoyed as well and was pleasantly surprised by it!
    Nice review!

    1. Thanks for your comment Mariana.
      It was a surprise for me too! I wasn't expecting it to be such a good film, but its now one of my favourites.


Thank you for your comments - they make me smile and I promise to try and answer them all :)