A 15th Anniversary Look Back at the Movie Orange County

So the rest of you can feel as old as I already am, the coming-of-age comedy Orange County is now 15 years old.

Like everything Hollywood does, the movie came out a half dozen or so years after it should have, which in this case would have been when the world—and especially the music industry—put a pin in Orange County on the map of cultural significance. At least Orange County can boast of hitting theaters a year before The O.C. hit TV screens in 2003.

News of the film being in production was a March 2001 entry in my year-in-review “Diary of a Mad County” that following December: “The cameras started rolling on Orange County, an MTV Films production named after this Orange County and not Florida’s or Texas’ or New Jersey’s. Starring Colin Hanks (Tom’s son), Jack Black and John Lithgow, it’s the story of a high school senior with a sterling academic record trying to get into Stanford University after his guidance counselor accidentally submits the transcript of a complete loser. Someone’s got us so pegged.”

Our Steve Lowery actually went out and saw it with a Los Angeles County audience upon the film’s release in January 2002.

Laughing hardest at Orange County  was a woman named Ann Elder, 19, who sat behind me. She laughed when the drug-addled brother dropped his pants, when the alcoholic mother said naughty words, when the star threw himself into the pool. Elder, who attends El Camino Community College in Torrance, said she thought the film was “pretty good.”

I asked her if she thought it was an accurate portrayal of what she knew life to be in Orange County.

“I guess so,” she said. “There were a lot of nice houses.”

But was it an accurate portrayal of the people of Orange County?

“I guess so,” she said. “I go to school with some people from Ontario, and they’re really nice.”

I told her that Ontario was not part of Orange County.

“Oh,” she said. “What’s Orange County?”

The Orange County soundtrack included songs from more bands from outside OC than from here. Only Lit, Social Distortion and The Offspring represented. The soundtrack did include “California,” the song by LA’s Phantom Planet that would go on to open The O.C.

More than its tunes, Orange County is known for helping launch the career of Colin Hanks, who is now a reliable veteran actor of the small and big screen with impressive credits like season one of Fargo, Dexter and The House Bunny. Do yourself a favor and look him up in the deliciously dark Lucky.

In 2015, Hanks made his directing debut with All Things Must Pass, a documentary about Tower Records that sprang from his love of the original record store in his hometown of Sacramento. His latest doc Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends), which is about his pals Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme returning to perform in Paris following the horrific terror attack on the Bataclan theatre, debuts on HBO Monday.

“I’m really proud of that movie,” Hanks recently said of Orange County on Entertainment Tonight. “I’m really proud of the people I made it with and I had a really fun time. And the fact that anybody is talking about something you did 15 years ago, that’s very special. It’s not lost on me. I’m so happy that the people who saw it when it came out still remember it, and there’s a whole other generation of people that have seen it since and dug it just as much.”

He played Shaun Brumder, a surfer who decides to study writing at Stanford to escape the Orange County mall culture. But his guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) accidentally screws up his chances. Shaun swings and mostly misses at several attempts to get himself back on the Stanford admission track. Besides the actors already mentioned, Orange County had Catherine O’Hara, the late Harold Ramis and Kevin Kline in supporting parts. Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek’s daughter, played Shaun’s girlfriend.

Connecting cast and crew members is exhausting but I’ll give it a go. The director was Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, who directed Kline in The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon and Darling Companion, as well as O’Hara in Wyatt Earp. She plays Shaun Brumder’s alcoholic mother, while Lithgow portrays the rich husband who left the family for a younger woman.

The young wife was played by Corona del Mar High School graduate Leslie Mann, the real wife of Judd Apatow and one of the best things going in Robert De Niro’s new film The Comedian. Apatow and Jake Kasdan worked together on TV’s Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks, whose writers included Mike White, who penned the Orange County script. White also played teacher Mr. Burke, as you can see from this clip that did not make the final cut:

White is a very good friend of Jack Black, who has been a good friend of Hanks’ since they made Orange County. They worked together again on King Kong. Meanwhile, though White is no fan of classic rock, he specifically wrote School of Rock for Black.

Laguna Beach had long been a base for Mike White’s father, the Rev. Mel White. Before that Mel had been a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Then White came out as gay in 1994 and divorced his wife. He now lives with his husband in Long Beach and has appeared with his son Mike on the CBS reality show Amazing Race.

While promoting Orange County, Mike White came out to The Advocate as bisexual. He admitted in the interview to having shared in high school his Orange County hero’s literary ambitions, although White’s anxiousness to leave his then home of Pasadena for college had more to do with a desire to explore his sexuality.

“That’s certainly the underhanded gay reading of Orange County, if there is one,” he told The Advocate back then. “If you substituted ‘I’m a writer’ with ‘I’m gay,’ you could certainly see there is a veiled coming-of-age gay story there.”

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