Orange County Turns 20 Years Old

Colin Hanks in Orange County. Courtesy of Paramount.

Orange County, the Jake Kasdan comedy starring Colin Hanks and Jack Black, marks its 20th anniversary since the 2002 theatrical release.

When best friend Lonnie (Bret Harrison) is killed in a surfing accident, Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) starts rethinking his life. Until then, Shaun didn’t really value his education. He was the type to surf, drink, and party–so basically, he was your average high school student! Throw Marcus Skinner’s (Kevin Kline) novel into the equation and Shaun’s life changes in an instant. He sets his goals towards attending Stanford and he would have probably gotten admitted if it weren’t for the wrong fricking transcript being submitted. Seriously, let’s stop for a moment here. How do you send the wrong transcript?!? Screenwriter Mike White certainly knows exactly what was needed to raise the stakes. Without this, Shaun doesn’t learn the important life lessons!

Leaving nothing to chance, Shaun tries to convince his father, Bud (John Lithgow), to donate money. Because why not? However, Bud doesn’t approve of Shaun setting off for a career as an author and so he refuses to donate. Next, he turns to girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) and she talks to a friend, Tanya (Carly Pope), with a grandfather on Stanford’s board. Things are looking swell but when Tanya’s grandparents come to visit, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Shaun’s mom, Cindy (Catherine O’Hara), isn’t in the best emotional state. Since divorcing Bud, she married Bob (George Murdock) and things went downhill from there. Leave it to Shaun’s brother, Lance (Jack Black), to walk into the interview with no clothing on and looking for his urine sample.

All out of luck, both Ashley and Lance convince Shaun to go to Stanford. But all hopes of meeting with Stanford Admissions Director Don Durkett (Harold Ramis) are dashed when the office is closed. Lance breaks in while Ashley and Shaun go to Durkett’s house. Durkett likes what he sees on the transcript but it’s too late in the admissions process. Because Ashley doesn’t know that Lance puts the wrong pills in containers, she accidently gives him molly. Instead of pills for a headache, he soon gets high. By the time they get to the admissions building, it’s too late. Lance’s antics have him wanted for arson. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong in this comedy!

Ashley is one of the few voices of reason in the film. This becomes clear as day throughout their evening at Stanford. She would rather he not go to Stanford in order to give their relationship a chance. And again, Shaun doesn’t need Stanford. He can become the next great American author by living anywhere in the country. But is Shaun willing to listen? No, he runs off and and meets some of the coeds on campus. It takes a chance encounter with Professor Skinner for Shaun to understand that Ashley is right. He doesn’t need Stanford. Of course, his family donates money to replace the admissions building and this leads to Shaun’s acceptance. Bud and Cindy also realize they miss each other and get back together.

I remember having fun watching this film back in 2002. Rewatching for the 20th anniversary is no different. I love how Shaun dedicates himself to going to Stanford after finding a random novel on the beach. It’s funny how the small moments in life can have life-changing effects. Sure, things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. I think that’s the thing to take away from watching Orange County. At the end of the day, you don’t need to enroll in an Ivy League-caliber school for your life to have a purpose.

Orange County could have been a formulaic teen comedy but Jake Kasdan and Mike White steer the ship in the right direction. Kasdan, Hanks, and Fisk might be the children of another Hollywood generation but they show they have what it takes to succeed in their own right. This was Kasdan’s sophomore effort behind the camera and it does not disappoint.

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan
CAST: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O’Hara, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow, Harold Ramis, Jane Adams, Garry Marshall, Dana Ivey, Chevy Chase, with Lily Tomlin

Paramount Pictures released Orange County in theaters on January 11, 2002.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.