Wet Hot American Summer (2001), or Why Is This Not A More Popular Movie?

22 02 2009
Alt comedy comes together to make a movie that nobody watched. How is that not surprising?

Alt comedy comes together to make a movie that nobody watched. How is that not surprising?

Aloha, film buffs! Comedy Week continues today with a movie that is inexplicably unseen. It is probably one of the best parody films ever made, and I’ll admit to never having seen it until this morning. It all stems back to yesterday’s review of Eagle Vs. Shark, where I mentioned (if you call an entire paragraph “mentioning”) that alt comedy is notorious for being extremely funny as well as being extremely ignored, and this is Exhibit A. This has to be one of alt comedy’s masterpieces, and nobody even knows it exists. Featuring the talents of Jeneane Garofolo, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Elizabeth Banks, and H. Jon Benjamin as a talking can of vegetables (!!!!!), Wet Hot American Summer was panned by critics almost universally. Roger Ebert, my main man, even made his scathing review to the tune of “Hello Mother, Hello Father”! I respect the man highly, but honestly if what Ebert said was always right than Transformers would be worth more than crud on the bottom of my shoe and Monster In Law might have been nominated for an Oscar. This is funny stuff.

It’s 1981, the last day at Camp Firewood for campers and counselors alike. Everyone wants to find someone to kiss at the end of the talent show. Katie and Coop are counselors, and good-guy Coop likes Katie a lot, but unfortunately she has a loser jerk boyfriend that stands in his way. This causes him all kinds of wimpy teenage suffering. Meanwhile, Beth, the camp director, is trying to keep all the campers and counselors from getting out of hand. It’s difficult for her though as she starts to become enamored with a local college professor, Henry. He is attracted as well, but is terrified by a startling discovery he has made that suggests NASA’s Skylab might be plummeting towards the camp. Can Coop get Katie away from that asshole boyfriend Andy with the help of freaky camp chef Gene and a talking can of vegetables (!!!!!!)? Can Beth win Henry’s astrophysicist heart? Will Skylab really destroy the camp? And what about the talent show?

This is a seriously funny movie. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. There are so many absurd moments that just tickle you in all the right places. It starts out as an obvious parody of other summer camp movies like Meatballs, Gort, and Stalag 17 (oh, wait; POW camp, not a summer camp. Sorry!), but quickly morphs into something quite a bit more insane. There are so many crazy abstract pieces of comedy here, that it’s hard to take it all in sometimes. Some people’s hyperbolic overreactions to news (like the infamous WHERE IS THE PHONE? scene), characters randomly behaving like children (when Beth tells asshole Andy to clean up food he threw on the floor, he picks it up in the most annoyed way humanly possible), and props mysteriously being handed off into space (when Henry needs to get rid of a trophy in his hand he hands it to someone off screen, and in the next scene it has disappeared. Huh?) and other odd humorous things make you wonder if you just saw a joke or a piece of ludicrous performance art. Not that it’s highbrow by any means; there’s plenty of dick-and-fart jokes for everybody. It’s just an echelon above what you normally see in watered down alt comedies.

The cast is unbelievable. Paul Rudd as obnoxious boyfriend Andy in one of his earlier funny roles. And I don’t mean the shitty romantic comedy shtick he had going for years in the 90’s (ugh…). He is awesome, and you can really imagine him being that much of a jerk in real life, and yes, that is a personal jab at him and I will fight him in public in a duel of honor. Jeneane Garofalo is also funny, so much so that it made me remember that she was a comedian. I had almost forgotten with all the weird bit parts she has done in recent years that she used to be really hysterical. This really highlights not only her sardonic, dry side, but also her manic and screaming side that should be unleashed more often. The irreverent Michael Ian Black is in this as a gay guy, and I was genuinely surprised to find out that he wasn’t gay in real life, so here’s to a hilarious comedian with range! David Hyde Pierce is also makes a strange turn as the astrophysicist Henry, and I really gotta say that his character is funnier than I thought. I assumed his character would be the tether, the one that kept the story grounded with some semblance of plot, but it turns out that nobody does that to extreme comedic effect, so kudos to Frasier’s brother on a joke well played!

The soundtrack kicks ass, if you’re forty-five, still living at home, and hope to God each morning that the skanky girl you dumped in high school walks through the door and gives you one last orgasm before you blow your brains out in a severe post-80’s depression. Featuring songs from KISS, Loverboy, and Jefferson Starship (ugh…), it really adds to the cheezy early 80’s vibe. I would buy it, but I already have an FM radio, so I can just hear all these songs whenever I want to because they STILL PLAY THESE SONGS EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

So please watch this! It is a movie that should be watched way more often, especially if you have an unconventional sense of humor. Alt comedy fans, this is a lost gem that you need to search out ASAP! I guess nobody wanted to laugh in 2001 (I can’t say I blame ’em; horrible year for comedy), but I am sure as hell ready to laugh now, and this movie really did it for me. I give Wet Hot American Summer 9 talking cans of vegetables out of 10! A high recommendation!

See you tomorrow, where Comedy Week continues with Pumpkin!

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