10 Reasons Why Orange County Is an Underrated Comedy Classic

Orange County

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Released during the heyday of American Pies, Road Trips, and Van Wilders, the 2002 film Orange County flew under the high school sex-romp radar when it was released. Written by future Enlightened co-creator Mike White and directed by frequent Freaks and Geeks collaborator and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story helmer Jake Kasdan, the movie has a darker, almost-bleak undercurrent running throughout, one that stands in stark contrast with the booze-filled house party atmospheres of the other teen flicks from its time. And because it’s often left out from conversations about worthy high school comedies, it’s about time we all revisit Orange County and discover why it should be listed alongside venerable favorites like The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Clueless.

But if you’re unconvinced, here are 10 reasons why Orange County is an underrated gem of a movie.

10. Mike White (School of Rock) wrote it.


Coming off an Independent Spirit Award win for Chuck & Buck, screenwriter Mike White knows a thing or two about crafting flawed, neurotic characters that audiences can root for. With a funny, relatable pathos that’s very reminiscent of Freaks and Geeks, White’s style is deeper than candy-coated fluff but still very fun to watch.

9. Colin Hanks proves he got his dad’s chops.


Like the siren song of an old Bosom Buddies episode, there’s just something about a young, frantic Hanks on screen that’s so eminently watchable. Confirming that his dad passed down his charisma gene, Colin plays Shaun Brumder, a very likable and believable character that is far more three-dimensional than your typical high school movie lead.

8. It’s a movie for the fringe.


Orange County follows a young writer’s pursuit of getting into Stanford so he could become like the author who changed his life. There are no subplots of pining for the unattainably cute girl, scrambling to lose one’s virginity, or planning the ultimate keg party. Shaun is meant to be relatable to the bookworms, art snobs, and A.V. geeks who were trying to hone their craft and creative obsessions in order to be like their idols.

7. The parents in this movie are truly awful, narcissistic people.


There’s no trace of a Paul Dooley or a Mr. or Mrs. Bueller in a parental role here. Shaun’s mom and dad, as well as the other parents in this movie, are deeply troubled, self-centered individuals who clearly should’ve never had kids. And it’s in their imperfections and inability to offer guidance that makes Shaun’s plight more difficult and empathetic.

6. Schuyler Fisk plays a character you don’t often see.


Colin Hanks isn’t the only one who inherited a parent’s best qualities. Displaying the same natural grace and sweetness as her mother, Sissy Spacek’s daughter Schuyler Fisk plays Shaun’s girlfriend Ashley and isn’t the prototypical ditzy side character. She feels very real not only as a high school sweetheart but also as the only thing in Shaun’s life that isn’t a living nightmare.

5. The cameos are delightfully strange.


For a teen comedy, Orange County really isn’t courting cheers from a Gen-Y demo with its brief celebrity appearances. These cameos, alongside supporting characters Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow, include older greats like Lily Tomlin, Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall, and Harold Ramis, as well as left-of-the-dial favorites Ben Stiller, Jane Adams, Kevin Kline, and Leslie Mann. Of course, we can also thank Orange County for giving Jack Black one of his earliest starring roles.

4. It makes the perfect companion piece to Mean Girls.


Like the Tina Fey-penned movie Mean Girls, Orange County draws much inspiration from ’80s black comedy Heathers in its dim view of high school popularity. The beautiful and well-liked prom royalty — who, in both movies, possess a vapid sense of entitlement and personalities that command very little sympathy — underscore the awkwardly cerebral qualities of the leads in a way that only those who lived through high school could understand.

3. It’s a treat for those who miss Enlightened.


Co-created by Mike White and Laura Dern, the criminally under-watched HBO series Enlightened was canceled after two stellar seasons, leaving its cult of fans desperate for anything like it. And while there is a discernable difference in tone, one can see seedlings of Dern’s character in Shaun, and the flaws and neuroses in the cast of Orange County wouldn’t seem at all out of place in Enlightened.

2. The palpable sense of joy to be validated by an idol.


After one disheartening setback after another, we finally see Shaun meet Marcus Skinner, the author who inspired his love of writing and to whom Shaun sent a rough, autobiographical novella. In a very touching scene, Skinner remembers the draft and commends Shaun on its many qualities. And Shaun, dewey-eyed from the affirmations and recognition, tells him, “You have no idea what that means to me,” and gives him a hug. It’s the type of situation every writer, artist, or creative person dreams of.

1. It’s “It gets better” by way of “People are alike all over.”


Shaun desperately wants to move away from his dysfunctional home life in the hopes that college will solve everything like a social panacea. However, as he witnesses firsthand, college — and, by extension, everywhere else — is just like high school with the same collision of positive and negative personalities. And while many young folks might find liberation after going away to school, Orange County reminds us that not everyone needs to escape their physical boundaries to excel beyond their creative or emotional ones.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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