Overview: Wet Hot American Summer follows a group of counselors and campers during a crazy final day of summer camp in 1981. USA Films; 2001; Rated R; 97 min.
A New Way: Well, actually nothing in this movie is new. This is a pretty standard parody, so standard that it’s almost a parody of a parody (we’ve all watched Meatballs). So, there isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Do we really have to expect that out of a comedy though? I was introduced to Wet Hot American Summer without any prior knowledge of the movie’s existence. I am a child of the 90’s and a huge fan of MTV’s The State. Matter of fact, The State was my introduction to sketch comedy and opened the door for my discovery of milestone works like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and eventually, my all-time favorite, Kids in the Hall. The creators of The State, David Wain and Michael Showalter, penned the script for Wet Hot American Summer. You can see the influence these sketch comedy giants had on this movie, with certain scenes playing out in Python-esque irreverence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting Wain and Showalter on the same footing as Monty Python, but the influence is strong enough to amuse fans of any flavor of irreverent sketch comedy.
It is, and it isn’t: Wanna know what works in this movie? Well, montages for one. Wet Hot American Summer manages to put together montages that satirize and rival even the best 80’s action movies. The alcohol and drug binge montage in town is shockingly funny and well executed, and the best montage by far is the one in which Christopher Meloni shows Showalter the “New Way”. Even the song in the montage is spectacular. “Higher and Higher” is an original song that sounds so natural in context you wouldn’t think it was composed solely for this movie. Actually, the entire soundtrack deserves praise. It mixes great 80’s tunes, like Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” and Kiss’ “Beth,” and great original songs that distinctly illustrate summertime in the early 80’s. In true parody form, the movie assaults just about every social clique: nerds, jocks, geeks, freaks, etc. (See Meloni’s character Gene to imagine an alternate future for Law & Order’s Elliot Stabler if things had gone slightly awry). There is a character for everyone in this movie. There is the “cool” crowd, a recent divorcee struggling with the loss of her husband, the “indoor kids” (as described by David Hyde Pierce), and even a hard look at homosexuality and its acceptance.
Meet me at the table: This movie is one of my guilty pleasures. The humor presented isn’t highbrow and isn’t as intellectual as some would like, but it isn’t an Adam Sandler movie either. I count this movie in the top five of my favorite comedies. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a funny, stupid comedy. This one delivers the stupid and it definitely delivers the funny.