2002 Certificate: 12


Slacker comedy starring Colin 'son of Tom' Hanks as a mediocre student trying to blag his way into university. What initially appears a run-of-the-mill Californian surf 'n' sun story blossoms into something cute and really rather witty - especially when Jack Black rocks up as Hanks' dope-addled brother. Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow play the dysfunctional parents while the much-loved Harold Ramis adds to the easy-going fun.


  • Jake Kasdan


  • Colin Hanks

  • Jack Black

  • John Lithgow

  • Schuyler Fisk

  • Catherine O'Hara


Shaun Brumder (Hanks) is not your archetypal Malibu beach boy - he's not a towering slab of beefcake, he doesn't tie his flowing tresses back in a ponytail... and he can read.

In fact, he can read so well he decides to give up the surfing life and - after discovering a life-affirming novel by writer Marcus Skinner in the sand - opts to get into Stanford University.

Sidelining his beach-boy buddies and chucking his surfboard, Shaun swots up in class, improves his grades and convinces himself he's landed a place.

He even fires off a story about his Orange County home life to Skinner, the idol he hopes will become his personal tutor.

It's Shaun's family which provides the winning ingredient - a gallery of beautifully drawn characters with their own flaws... and their own virtues.

Mum (Catherine O'Hara) drinks chardonnay by the case rather than the glass, while ex-husband and Shaun's dad Bud (John Lithgow) is embroiled with a bimbo gold-digger who doesn't care that he knows it.

Black, who reportedly trousered $2m for just three weeks' work, plays Shaun's brother Lance, a screwed-up, small-time drug dealer who offers Shaun a lifeline (when he's not running around in his underpants).

Shaun's loyal girlfriend is played by Fisk, a strong, silent type who refuses to be pigeonholed as a Valley Girl when she can garner respect as that rare thing - a love interest with a brain.

The whole family are drawn into Shaun's new world when - thanks to a dim-bulb guidance counsellor - his perfect application to Stanford gets the wrong man admitted.

The film-makers have made a conscious decision to get away from what they see as 'low-brow' comedies - so there's nothing here based on bodily functions or sexual humiliation.

Instead, it relies on the good, old-fashioned virtues of solid comedy writing and well-rounded characters who actually evolve as the movie progresses.

And it's also very funny. When asked which movies are based on Shakespeare, one student of the bard replies: "West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet...and Waterworld."

Tim Evans