The Scoop: 2001 R, directed by David Wain and starring Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, and Michael Showalter
Tagline: It was the last day of summer camp. It was the first day of the third week in August.
Summary Capsule: Counselors and kids dance on the grave of 1981 during summer camp’s last day
Justin’s Rating: I refuse to be a number!
Justin’s Review: Summer camp movies are one of a couple genres (another being college flicks) that (1) seem to allow such flexibility when it comes to creating freewheeling comedic characters and plots, and (2) are vastly underused. Maybe that’s because the summer camp genre goes through fits and spurts (unlike horror films, which have been freebasing a nonstop marathon since 1932), sating the needs of us few that just want to have a good time.
And what IS summer camp? If you think I’m going to use some Oxford dictionary explanation here, you have mistaken me for every bad school report ever written. Summer camp, to me, is life without parents. Yes, we need and love parents, especially because they get us Nintendos and have extra-strength Mom Spit that cleans our faces, but there’s some sort of ecstatic moment that arrives when you go off to camp and realize that you have been liberated from the yoke of parental concern. Of course, you come under the care of older teenagers that can barely control the acne on their body that’s raging like an out of control wildfire, but that’s beside the point. You’re FREE! To me, that meant buying a LOT of candy with my friends, and puking up pink sugar all night long.
In the tiny pantheon of summer camp movies, I would only rate a few as keepers. Meatballs, of course, that classic that all others are compared with. The opening bit of Parent Trap, which I watched ad nauseum as a kid (perhaps hoping that my evil twin was at a camp somewhere), the summer camp experiences in Addams Family Values (which included a full-scale riot), and even the grown-up nostalgia of Indian Summer. Add to that maybe Ernest Goes To Camp, and we see that it might just get maybe one shelf of its own at the video store, tops. In other words, not an extremely large genre ripe for satire.
But the makers of MTV’s The State gave it the ol’ college try anyhow, and they kind of surprised me. From what I heard and expected, Wet Hot American Summer was to be a Scary Movie-style parody, and little else. But instead, it’s about the opposite. WHAS (add “SUP” to that, and you’re dead) takes the summer camp setting and just plain has fun with it. It genuinely cares for its characters, who aren’t just one-note jokes — they might as well be any 25 year-old counselors posing as 16 year-olds in the country. I got the impression that the filmmakers weren’t trying to force the jokes, but instead create a developed camp experience and then throw in a few in-jokes here and there.
It’s the last day of summer camp in 1981, and everything’s brewing and bubbling. Boys are in the girls’ cabins, the counselors are out of control, and Skylab is due to lay waste to the area by that evening. Hey, what do you expect when Janeane Garafolo is the camp director? I mean, I guess we can be glad she didn’t have all the guys castrated and slain on the spot, which makes this is a cheery flick. Janeane isn’t really in charge of anything; she helplessly watches the camp staff do what they want while she spends inexplicable time mooning over next door neighbor David Hyde Pierce. Now I ask you, if this guy has lived right next to the camp all summer long, how come they haven’t met until this last day? I think it must be all due to Pierce’s horrible, horrible moustache, which would look bad on a bigger guy, but turns his skinny frame into the persona of a creepy game show host.
The whole of this movie is split between the counselors and their various subplots. It’s an assorted bargain bin of stories; some are interesting, some not, some are funny, some not. But although I was never consistently laughing at WHAS, I was pretty entertained throughout. The main storyline has a geeky counselor trying his best to woo Pretty Girl Counselor away from her jerk boyfriend. Very stereotypical, but hilarious in the nod-wink references they make to every movie that has used this outrageous device. There’s a makeout scene involving shirt-swapping and goats that is very worth your while.
As for the other subplots I liked, well, Molly Shannon has a classic role as a recent divorcee using her arts and crafts class as therapy (her best advice comes from a way too mature 8 year-old), and the camp cook — a Vietnam vet whose anger keeps making him say ridiculous things — is highly amusing. A gay romance between male staffers is played for cheap and kinda offensive laughs, no matter which side of the fence you see it from. Yes, this is a movie which has virtually no female nudity, but features guys in excess. Also, another story involving a hornball counselor trying to make it back to the camp to hook up with the resident easy girl is incredibly dull and loses opportunity points left and right.
The film climaxes at a bizarre talent show that is neither funny nor interesting; it just serves to connect all the subplots together. The uneven pacing of WHAS guarantees a small audience — big laughs come in clusters, and the plot speeds up and slows down depending on what you like — but I have a feeling that it’s the type of movie that will find its niche in repeat viewings. Like bug juice, there’s an insider knowledge to the whole process, and it’s easy to be disgusted as much as attracted to the thought of gulping it down. Mmm… bugs.
Clare’s Rating: 4 out of 5 fondled sweaters
Clare’s Review: Let’s travel back in time for a moment. Not to summer camp in 1981. Let’s go back to my freshman year in college (1993-1994). A time of relative innocence. A time of liberation from the confines of home. A time when staying up really late to get drunk on a week night wouldn’t preclude me from jumping out of bed after 3 hours of sleep to hustle my buns through a full day’s worth of classes. It was a magical time. A time some of you may remember. Back when a little show called The State made life worth living.
The State was a sketch comedy show on MTV that only ran for one season. However, since it went off the air, I’ve made it my business to follow up on the lives and careers of those involved in that wonderful, magical, hysterical sketch comedy show back in those wonderful, magical, hysterical days of the early to mid-1990’s. So when I heard about Wet Hot American Summer, a movie directed, written and starring many members of The State, I got real excited. Not excited enough to see it in theaters. And not excited enough to rent it as soon as it came out on DVD. But definitely excited enough to look forward to watching it once I finally remembered to rent it when I came across it for the millionth time at the video store. There is however, one slight problem associated with my ability to have viewed this movie for the first time in an objective and unbiased way. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I love The State.
On the DVD version of WHAS there is an alternate soundtrack you can pick that allows you to watch the film with well-placed, well-timed and well-delivered fart noises. And since my friends and I are ALWAYS making fart noises whenever we watch, for example, gymnastics or American Idol on TV, this kind of feature was too tempting a proposition to pass up. Thusly, the first time I saw this film, I laughed my ever-loving head off for a full 2 hours and barely paid attention to the plot or the characters or, really, anything. Because if you’ve ever seen Janeane Garofalo fart while walking, everything else sort of fails by comparison.
Since my initial viewing, I have managed to watch Wet, Hot, American Summer every single time it comes on one of my MANY, MANY, MANY movie channels. And I have to say, even without the fart noises, this movie is really, really funny. Funny that gets funnier the more you watch it. Funny that stays funny even if you’ve seen it a million times. Honest and true funny.
I think my favorite character in the movie among an gigantic slew of good characters to pick from is Christopher Meloni as Gene the crazy camp cook. Meloni is an actor who usually plays one of two kinds of roles: serious and very, very serious. I’ve watched him season after season on NBC’s Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit as hard charging police detective Elliot Stabler who deals with sex offenders and scummy rapists who are not entirely unlike his other regular series character, serial killer/rapist/psycho/deranged lunatic/obsessed boyfriend Chris Keller on HBO’s Oz. Here, Meloni does BROAD, BROAD comedy and he does it really, really well. I don’t know how you can make humping a fridge or delivering an earnest speech about how much you love to smear mud on your ass more funny than it already is, but Meloni completely adds something to it that’s precise and perfect and hilarious.
Besides him, Janeane Garofalo delivers one of the best performances of her career here. I mean, her acting career isn’t all THAT impressive, but watching her have so much fun with her character and the delivery of her lines was a real treat. She’s one good example of an overall sense you’ll get watching Wet Hot American Summer. It may not make a lot of sense and it may be a little overwrought, but it also looks like everyone had one hell of a good time getting together to make it happen. Kind of like summer camp is supposed to be.
- The movie is set in 1981, yet Skylab crashed in the Indian Ocean on July 11, 1979.
- On the “town trip” montage, the characters are seen eating French fries from McDonald’s Super-Size fry containers. In 1981, when the movie was set, there were no Super-Sizes available at McDonald’s.
- The cook and his mixed veggies have some serious issues!
- There are some scenes where you can clearly see the actor’s breath even though it’s supposed to be the middle of summer. That’s what they get for making Wet, Hot American Summer in the middle of a record cold Pennsylvania spring.
- Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? Definitely — the closing credit sequence is one of the most brilliant I’ve seen in years. A camera swoops around a bulletin board, replete with funny pictures and memorabilia from the cast. After the cast and crew credits there’s a short clip of all the counselors 10 years later. Well worth waiting for.
Katie: Andy, we’re soulmates right?
Andy: Yeah, whatever babe, if you want…my butt itches.
Andy: Lindsay, you’ve got barbecue all over your face, it’s pretty foul.
DnD nerd: Alexa? You would make an excellent druid as you have already cast a level five charm spell on me.
DnD nerd: Any dungeon master worth his weight in gelding always carries around his trusty 20-sider.
Beth: Well, we all survived the summer except for a few children who are lepers.
Nurse: Good one, Beth.
Beth: [watching the boys run back from the girls bunks] You guys aren’t supposed to be out of your bunks. You’re in trouble.
Henry: Beth, Today is the least of our worries.
Beth: Oh God, Don’t tell me you have crabs…
Henry: Well yes, but that’s not the point. Meet me at the picnic table in ten seconds and I’ll explain it all…
Swimming Kid: Andy, have you seen my swimming buddy? If I can’t find him I’m telling Beth that you let him drown.
Andy: I was busy.
Swimming Kid: It’s you job to make sure kids don’t drown!
Gene: Finish up the potatoes. I’m gonna go fondle my sweaters.
Gary: What did you say?
Gene: Finish up the potatoes.
Gary: And then what did you say?
Gene: And then what did I say?
Gary: You said you were going to fondle your sweaters.
Gene: No I didn’t. I said [pause] I’m gonna make fondue with cheddar, fondue with cheddar cheese for dinner tonight.
Gary: Gene, that’s not what you said.
Gene: [stares blankly] Fondue.
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