Navigating Netflix: Orange County

Where you decide to go for your post-secondary education is the biggest and most important decision of your life. Scratch that. There is a point in your life where it feels like where you decide to go for your post-secondary education is the biggest and most important decision of said life. In reality, there are a slew of big decisions that don’t revolve around school that are more important in the grand scheme of things. But it seems huge at the time and that’s at the core of Orange County.

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Shaun Brumder, played by Colin Hanks, is coming to end of his time in high school and is actively trying to get in to Stanford. Why? His literary hero is a professor there and he’s compelled to the point of obsession to study with him, spurred on by the memory of a friend who died surfing.

Not surprisingly, Shaun doesn’t get in thanks to an incompetent student advisor and is left trying to figure out ways to duck the system. He’s constantly waylaid by a girlfriend who wants him to stay local, a drug addled brother, a drunken mother and a father who doesn’t understand why he wants to be a writer.

There are a lot of aspects of this 2002 release that are almost boilerplate for this kind of comedy. The obsessive goal. Insane obstacles cast almost arbitrarily in the hero’s path. The quirky but lovable family. The cast, though, is anything but typical.

First and foremost are Shaun’s divorced parents played by the incomparable duo of Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow, both highly respected actors and brilliant comedians. Each delivers an outstanding performance, their scenes together charged with both humor and pain. Jack Black expertly plays the drug addled brother because…well, because he’s Jack Black and he plays a much better supporting cast member than leading man. Schuyler Fisk kills it as Shaun’s girlfriend, perfectly balancing sympathetic and sabotage. And Colin Hanks is just wonderful in his incredulous responses to all of them as they continually present themselves as supportive roadblocks to his goals.

Beyond the main cast, the supporting cast shines through. Garry Marshall, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Leslie Mann, Kevin Kline and Ben Stiller all make appearances, some more pivotal than others. But it’s Harold Ramis that steals the show as Stanford’s Admissions Director, doubly so once they string him out on ecstasy.

Egon, no!

In the end, Orange County is funny, engaging and interesting thanks to a funny, engaging and interesting cast. The plot itself is a little predictable but a series of great performances sell it well.

Hell, Harold Ramis on ecstasy is alone worth checking it out for…

Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at