Wet Hot American Summer
It's not easy to review a movie you and your friends have been quoting from for so long, you've almost forgotten half the references even started there, but that's just what the Couch Baron's doing this morning with his write-up of Wet Hot American Summer. (He smells like a burger. I don't like him anymore.)
If you go in knowing nothing about this film, the opening scene might momentarily make you think you're in for an early-eighties teen-slasher flick. Guys boozing it up around a campfire while slutty big-boobed girls with no bras dance provocatively? Doesn't it seem like someone out there must want to kill them?
But no, the film is Michael Showalter and David Wain's brilliantly funny satire, set in 1981 on the last day of "Camp Firewood"'s season. The ensemble cast boasts a veritable embarrassment of comedy riches including, besides Showalter himself, his The State cohorts Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black (recently reunited in gay demon love on Reaper!), SNL talent Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler, and, among others, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofolo, Chris Meloni, David Hyde Pierce, and Bradley Cooper. On this fateful yet hilaaaarious day, gangly, earnest, and lovable Coop (Showalter) tries to tell Katie (Marguerite Moreau) about his feelings for her, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend, who's a jerky horndog (Rudd). Nerdy camp director Beth (Garofolo) finally gets up the courage to ask the local astrophysics professor (Pierce) out. And theater queens Ben and Susie (Cooper and Poehler) struggle to get the end-of-summer talent show in on time.
But it's the more twisted developments that are the funniest, whether it's arts-and-crafts teacher Gail (Shannon) finding love with one of her preteen students, camp cook and still-shell-shocked Vietnam vet Gene (Meloni) getting life advice from a can of vegetables, or degenerate counselor Andy (Rudd) negligently killing some of his kids and then, in a running gag, dumping the witnesses (one a young, dyed-blond Kyle Gallner of Veronica Mars fame) out of a moving van. As the writers' commentary on the deleted scenes shows, everyone involved in this movie is just sick and wrong, and we are the happy beneficiaries.
Summer Timeline: The film takes place almost exclusively over a single day, but the characters still have a lot to accomplish. I'm not talking about the fact that someone has to stop a piece of Skylab (still funny) from falling on the camp — that task is left to the nerds of the group, led by Pierce with an entertainingly different kind of bookishness from his pathologically superior Niles Crane. No, what's on everyone's mind is what's on every movie camper's mind — getting laid. More specifically, the pressure is on for everyone in camp to find someone with whom to hook up after the summer-culminating talent show, because, as the camp's self-proclaimed radio DJ tells us, "you don't want to go home and lie to your friends about a summer romance that didn't even happen." What's atypical, however, is that the biggest action in the film is boy-on-boy — Black and Cooper have a sex scene that's supposed to be funny, but actually plays kind of scorchingly. Hey, next time get ugly guys to do the parody.
Enviable Vacation Locale: As Showalter and Wain will be only too happy to tell you, it rained heavily for almost the entire shoot and was freezing cold besides, and if you look closely, you can tell. I'm not all that picky when it comes to summer vacations, but I draw the line at being able to see my own breath. Pass.
Quick-Burning Summer Romance: As mentioned earlier, there are several, all having something to offer, whether it's McKinley (Black) and Ben's hilariously spiritual commitment ceremony (watch for Garofolo trying not to laugh), Gail falling for the camper that helped her out with preternaturally mature relationship advice, or Victor (Marino) going on an overwrought odyssey to be with a girl who doesn't even remember his name. But the best part comes when Katie, after tearfully, touchingly, and clichédly telling Coop she loves him, goes back to asshole Andy the next day, because, as she puts it, "That's where my priorities are right now. Sex. Specifically with Andy and not with you. But you're really nice. I mean, everybody thinks so. And I'm sorry if this isn't the direction that you saw things going between us." The faces Showalter makes during this speech alone are worth the price of admission, but really, isn't this a more realistic development than the nerdy guy getting the hot girl?
High Comedy: With people this funny, you don't want to take your eyes off the screen for a minute, or you'll miss tidbits like the numerous pop-culture references (The Bad News Bears, Kung Fu, White Nights, and Platoon, among others, are all sent up), a kid unabashedly picking his nose while Coop looks soulfully forlorn about Katie and Andy, and Garofolo improv-ing names like "David Ben-Gurion" while running down the parental-pick-up list.
Most of the stuff is less blink-and-you'll-miss-it, though, including a montage (set to Rick Springfield) of some counselors getting high in a drug den and shaking off withdrawal all within an hour, and the entire camp acting like this comedian who just got off a bus from the Catskills (Showalter, again, made up and bewigged) is the most side-splittingly funny thing they've ever seen (Zak Orth gets a special mention for his over-the-top whooping it up). Some of the best lines include Garofolo's annoyed declaration to the camp: "I am not joking. I am not Ruth Buzzi standing here!" and a geeky camper responding to a taunt with this: "Douchebags are hygienic products. I take that as a compliment," as well as Andy referring to the writing in his composition notebook as his "gournal." You'll also appreciate the period details, including Marino's perm and cutoff shorts, and one of the kids playing that ubiquitous early-eighties game, Merlin. Whoever did props for this movie is my new hero.
DVD Extras: There's a cornucopia of stuff to be had here, including interviews with several cast members, twelve minutes of deleted scenes with and without commentary from Wain and Showalter, and, best of all, an extended version of the "Ten Years Later" scene that ends the film in which the actors give interviews in character to let us know how they turned out. Your reaction to Amy Poehler's offering in this section is probably a good indication of whether this film is for you: "My daughter Jessica is Little Miss Massachusetts, and my son Joe is retarded."
Worth The AC?: You have to ask?
Overall Suitability As A Summer Movie: A-plus
Tags: 12 Days Of Summer Movies