May 31, 2011

Orange County (USA 2002)

Mr. Burke: Now, when I say "Romeo and Juliet", who comes to mind?
Dana: Claire Danes?
Mr. Burke: That's right, Claire Danes. Who else?
Chad: Leonardo DiCaprio.
Mr. Burke: Right. Who else? ...well, you know someone else was involved in that movie who in some ways is as famous as Leonardo Di Caprio. And his name is William Shakespeare. And some great movies have been made based on his plays: Hamlet, West Side Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Waterworld, Gladiator, Chocolat...

This dialogue from the 2002 comedy "Orange County" between an English literature teacher (!) and a student makes me laugh everytime I hear it. But I don't just like the movie because its entertainment value but primarily because it brilliant captures the love-hate relationship a lot of people have with their home town. As referenced in the film, this conflict is actually the source of many great works of literature and film. Well, "Orange County" may not qualify as a great work but it certainly shows that Mike White, the film's screenwriter, knows this strange place...

If you have never been to Orange County or watched any of the TV shows that made the region famous, you might not quite get all of the jokes but after visiting it occasionally while I was living in Los Angeles, I can honestly tell you, the reality is not far off. Having grown up far away from any beaches in an area with a lot of rain and fog, the place has always fascinated me despite, or maybe because of, the perfect weather, the wealth, the superficiality and the apparent lack of any sophisticated culture. It really is a place where a Hollywood movie is treated with more respect than a piece of renowned literature. Orange County - at least along the coastline - is where the American leisure class enjoys life in all its sun-soaked splendor seemingly without any real problems. 

For instance, the only "problem" of the main character of "Orange County" is that he didn't get into Stanford University and is therefore unable to leave his hometown and dysfunctional family. Naturally, over the course of only 82 film minutes, he has learned that he can live his dreams regardless which college he goes to. But this simple message is presented in such a charming way that many of us can relate to it. After all, many of us have (had) dreams like that, many of us have this special relationship with our home town and many leave it only to learn to appreciate what they had in the first place...

This identification with the hero is also the reason why so many people - even "serious" film lovers like myself - respond to films like that. They take us to another world but their characters are familliar. Plus, they teach us things that we instinctively know already. "Orange County" is a good example what a good comedy should be: fun but not stupid, with likeable characters and that message that we all grasp for deep down inside...


Life's a beach in "Orange County"

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