Sunday Classics: Wet Hot American Summer
To usher in the season, I chose Wet Hot American Summer as the next Sunday Classic. Whether or not you like this movie depends greatly on whether the sense of humor espoused by its creators appeals to you. And if the critical reception to the film is any indication, it’s a type of humor that most people just don’t get.
Wet Hot American Summer was the brainchild of David Wain and Michael Showalter, previously of the MTV sketch comedy troupe The State. If you have ever seen the show, or other projects from State Alumni like The Ten, Reno 911! and Stella (not to mention various other writing and directing gigs like Balls of Fury and Night at the Museum that seem made for a wider audience) then you will sort of get their schtick–humor from randomness and obscure reference. They aren’t trying to make a lot of sense, and in that lies the brilliance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Wet Hot American Summer satires the camp movies of the late 70’s and 80’s, but also sort of satires satire itself. It’s the last day of camp, and everyone is scrambling around to find a summer hookup or work on sketches for the Big Talent Show or even save the world. The cast of characters is massive and each group has its own hilariously satisfying subplot.
The main character, Coop, played by Michael Showalter, is in love with Kate, who is falling for Coop but still in love with her boyfriend Andy (played to awesome perfection by Paul Rudd). Andy likes to make out with Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) regardless of whether or not her face is covered in barbecue sauce. Lindsay has been known to make out with the camp slut Abby. And this doesn’t begin to address everything going on.
It may sound like a lot for one movie, maybe too much, but it all works to perfect, hilarious affect. Wain, Showalter, and the other members of the State do their best work in ensemble films and you can really tell with the ease at which all the subplots are handled and paid off.
My favorite character in the film is Gene, the camp cook, played by Law and Order SVU (and Oz)’s Christopher Meloni. He’s shell-shocked from his stint in Vietnam and not only is his best friend a can of vegetables, he also likes to hump fridges and fondle sweaters. Out of context it sounds crazy, I know, and it’s really not much more explicable in context either.
Again, many people will view the movie and, like most of the critics who tried to watch it too literally, just not get the humor. Honestly, I’m not such a huge fan of some of the State’s other works (Stella, namely), but their style really works to best effect in Wet Hot American Summer, from the huge cast, to the unexpected and out-there twists, to the general oddness that permeates through every scene. They had fun making the movie and, if you can suspend your disbelief, you should have fun watching it.