ONE OF ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY'S TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2001
"The most delectable satire in years."
"Wet Hot American Summer is a parody of the teen- coming-of-age movies of the '70s and '80s (think Hardbodies, et al.), hardly a subject that would seem to require urgent comic attention. But let's not leap to conclusions. We'll take a funny movie from wherever it comes, and this shamefully underpromoted, gloriously silly romp made me laugh harder than any other movie this summer. Make that this year.
THE CREATION of Michael Showalter and David Wain, of the MTV comedy troupe The State, Wet Hot transpires in 1981, on the closing day of Camp Firewood, a Jewish summer camp in Maine. A lot happens on this particular day, which will end, in time-honored tradition, with the camp talent show. The romantically clueless camp director (Janeane Garofalo) falls in love with a tightly wound astrophysics assistant professor (David Hyde Pierce), who happens to notice that a part of Skylab is hurtling dangerously toward camp. The tall, geeky counselor Coop (Showalter) falls for the bodacious Katie (Marguerite Moreau), who is smitten with the surly pretty boy Andy (Paul Rudd), a lifeguard so inattentive he lets two of his charges sink. The cook is a crazed Vietnam vet (Christopher Meloni) who converses with a can of vegetables and has sexual designs on a household appliance. Etc., etc.
This blissfully unimportant movie starts in a deceptively low key, only gradually unveiling its total lunacy (the staff's debauched trip into town is a throwaway highlight). If there is any movie justice, half the folks standing in line for American Pie 2 will rush over to see this infinitely more accomplished comedy. That is, if they can find it. Wise up, USA Films - you've got a winner on your hands."
--David Ansen, NEWSWEEK
"Wet Hot American Summer is a delectable parody of dawn-of-the-Reagan-era teen flicks, and if that sounds like much ado about not very much, the movie is so hilariously sly about something so fetishingly trivial that at times it appears to take in an entire culture through a lens made of cheese. You may think you already know everything about the '70s and '80s, but Wet Hot, which is set on the last day of summer camp in 1981, pinpoints that invisible tectonic moment when the one morphed into the other. It was an era, post-Animal House and pre-MTV, caught between high times and Fast Times, disco fever and spring break, John Holmes and John Hughes, the fall of the shaggy sensitive guy and the rise of the macho stud.
The film's creators, David Wain and Michael Showalter (formerly of MTV's The State), at once satirize and celebrate all of those brain-dead, teen-porn, sub-Meatballs comedies - trash like Hardbodies, Private School, and G.O.R.P. - that, with 20 years' hindsight, look as innocent as Sandra Dee beach romps. They've come up with a loving and meticulous re-creation of the last moment before American youth culture went permanently ironic. Wain, in his directorial debut, crams the screen with priceless period detail - the Dungeons & Dragons genious; the monstrously uncool loser in his hideous white Afro and music shirt; Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce as matching dorks too clueless to slip into their proper sex roles. As Coop, an earnest girly man whose "hot" babe friend (Marguerite Moreau) regards him as a completely non-sexual being, Showalter gives an inspired performance of flinging limbs and wistful geek sighs. It's one of the film's highlights when he's made over in a post-Rocky/pre-Flashdance kung fu workout montage. The single funniest moment, however, has to be the crazed Vietnam-vet cook (Christopher Meloni) confronting his sexuality byÉ well, trust me, you have to see it. Wet Hot American Summer is the most gleeful and ingenious pop satire since The Brady Bunch Movie and the Naked Gun glory days of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker. Grade: A "
--Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
(Entertainment Weekly also featured WHAS in the 8/10 cover story, "10 Summer Movies worth seeing.")
"Michael Showalter and David Wain of the sketch-comedy group The State wrote and directed this hilarious coming-of-age marathon set at Camp Firewood, Maine, in August 1981 -- a time when pulled-up white socks could be worn safely. What's impressive here is the pace; by cramming an entire summer of pranks, hookups, defeats, and comebacks into a single day, Wain and Showalter keep the jokes zipping along. Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon and the other actors ham it up for laughs with a raunchiness tempered by deadpan earnestness. Best are the throwaway moments, such as when a Kenyan runner appears out of nowhere and sprints past everyone in capture the flag."
--Michael Agger, THE NEW YORKER
"The satire in Wet Hot American Summer -- possibly the year's funniest film -- is so seamless and precise the movie could be mistaken for one of the corny hormonal-teen comedies it so wonderfully deconstructs. Its genius is that it never steps out of character to pander to today's teen demographics. Playing it straight, "Summer" transcends facile satire to adoring emulation.... The tone is sunny, knuckleheaded innocence, underlined by rambunctious period pop. "
--Chris Garcia, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
"One quality of comedy is that if it's funny, it needs no further justification, and Wet Hot American Summer is funny enough to lay any questions to rest. ... Wet Hot comes co-written by David Wain (who directs) and Michael Showalter (who co-stars), both members of the '90s troupe-comedy show The State, and the two have let verisimilitude serve as their guiding principle, starting with the curvy font used in the title sequence and continuing down to a can of the short-lived Pepsi Light... Wain and Showalter display such an uncanny knack for sustaining a deadpan--but strangely affectionate--tone that their efforts pay off even when the jokes don't."
--Keith Phipps, THE ONION
"...the movie may elicit stirrings of nostalgia, not only for the sticky, hormone-addled time of life it evokes but also for the dumb, cheesy summertime farces that flourished in the late 1970's and early 80's."
--A. O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES
"White tube socks. Too-short gym shorts. Tiny tees. Feathered hair. Frenching. Rick Springfield. Loggins & Messina. Kiss. Summer camp. Freaky. Flashback, serious. Plus Janeane Garofalo, genius. And Michael Showalter, genius. And Paul Rudd and so-fine Christopher Meloni. Directed by David Wain, freak but possibly also genius. Written by Wain and Showalter, freak times two and possibly also genius times two. Like, you know, the '70s. But, like, you know, conceptual-like. Like, you know, Porky's by way of '80s art-school postmodernism. Like, you know, genius."
--Manohla Dargis, L.A. WEEKLY
"...the funniest movie I've seen all year...Imagine your American Pie and Scary Movie type teen film with a great cast, a hysterical and far wittier script, and tongue planted firmly in cheek, and you'll have an idea of the Wet Hot American Summer vibe. This one will be big."
--AIN'T IT COOL NEWS
"Goofy, rediculous and utterly hilarious...the funniest movie I've seen in a looooong time.
--Jonathan Mahalak, CHICAGO NEW CITY
"The title of this inventive absurdist comedy is meant to mislead - it's not a sex movie but a parody, and the loose feel is part of its genius....a precarious balance of broad comedy and erzatz drama that's never off pitch."
--Lisa Alspector, CHICAGO READER
"It's obvious from about 3 seconds into "Wet Hot American Summer" that it is going to be hilarious. Slo-mo images of sexy, drunken 70's youth cavorting around a campfire are accentuated by the opening strains of Jefferson Starship's classic soft rocker "Jane." I laughed my ass off. The sorority girl behind me whisperingly asked her boyfriend, "What's so funny?" To which he replied, "The music... It's so cheesy."
Yes. But this simplistic explanation punctuates the most important aspect of "Wet Hot American Summer." You've really got to be over 30 to truly get it. I mean, the whole issue of Airplane/Starship history, the selling out to soft rock, the pop culture references, the Marty Balin issues. All of this is relevant to the joke of using "Jane" as the opening song here. This film may seem a simple spoof at first glance, but it is, in fact, a deeply textured comedy. A definitive knowledge of late 70's/early 80's movies, music and pop culture is necessary to truly get all of the jokes - and their true implications.
"Wet Hot American Summer" stars Janeane Garofalo as Beth, the camp director of a summer retreat filled with hormonally unbalanced pubescent youth. "I love her. She's so funny and cynical," said the sorority girl behind me. (I got up and moved).
Anyway, the opening scene, after the aforementioned soft-rock credit sequence, is beautiful. Numerous campers are shown in bed together blissfully humping away. When the sun comes up, they run frantically back to their own beds while Garofalo sits on her cabin's porch and wryly and purposefully ineffectually chides them for being out of their bunks. From this point on, "Wet Hot American Summer" lampoons and lambastes every cliché from every 70's and 80's teen sex romp ever made.
It would be impossible to name the hundreds of films that are referenced here;. the most obvious of which is "Meatballs." But this film isn't specifically about spoofing scenes from other movies. Rather it spoofs the elements and cliches from genre movies. There is a wonderful segment that deconstructs every teen sports film from "The Bad News Bears" to "Air Bud." It's fresh and funny. Even better is the "drug sequence" (also known as the "trip to town" sequence) which hilariously stomps on those segments in teen sex romp films where everyone has fun and gets high smoking pot. (Before I moved seats, the stupid girl behind me actually said, "Oh it's like 'Dazed and Confused' but in the 80's." She was wrong, but this segment is like a loving jab at films like "D&C.")
Fans of MTV's landmark sketch comedy series "The State" will recognize Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio and David Wain here. In fact, Wain and Showalter co-wrote the film and Wain directed it. But the guys wisely add a ton of talent to the cast. Well, they have to, there's a ton of plot and characters here. There are loads of teenagers and sexy counselor girls. And then there's David Hyde Pierce and Molly Shannon too. Everyone in the film is funny.
"Wet Hot American Summer" utilizes any and every comic style and device to get a laugh. From lampoon to absurdism to sex jokes to slapstick, the film runs the gauntlet, unafraid to go balls out for a laugh. 99 times out of 100, it works. If you were born in the 60's and don't leave the theater with your sides aching, you must have been raised in Amish country or something. This film is a riot. Even the gay jokes here are hilarious and non-offensive.
It isn't often that low-budget independent films are laugh- out loud funny, but this year I have seen two of them. "Wet Hot American Summer" and "Super Troopers." Finally, comedy is getting the chance to break into the arthouse and be spotlighted alongside the more serious fare. And with its bevy of sexy guys and hottie girls, make-out scenes and blunt, uproarious comedy, "Wet Hot American Summer" is one of the most fun evenings you can spend at the arthouse.
"Jerry Zucker...recently lamented that making something like Airplane today is impossible because the minute you depict a grown man asking a youth if he likes gladiator movies, politically correct soccer moms start organizing studio boycotts. But apparently nobody bothered to tell that to co-writers Michael Showalter and David Wain. Their spoof of '80s sex-at-summer-camp flicks celebrates such depravities as a 34-year-old divorcee (SNL's Molly Shannon) being seduced by a prepubescent charge, gay marriage, and, um . . . what do you call the love between a man and his refrigerator, anyway?
Showalter and Wain aren't afraid to detour abruptly into the absurd, as when a trip into town devolves into a scenario worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Summer may mark the last time audiences walk into a summer-camp movie and come out cheering for the oversexed teens, not the ax-wielding psycho."
--Kurt B. Reighley, SEATTLE WEEKLY
"...pitch perfect satire..."
--Hilary Shenfeld, CHICAGO DAILY HERALD
"[Wet Hot American Summer] is exactly what the movie-going public needs (whether they realize it or not)... a well-written, unpredictable comedy that keeps the audience guessing, howling and wincing while reliving the horrible and heroic moments from the summers of yore...
Spending almost no money on special effects, sets or stunts, director David Wain relies on a solid script, smartly paced scenes, dead-on wardrobe and a super-talented, expressive cast. It's one of those rare films where you don't have one favorite character; you have at least four."
"Wet Hot American Summer is not just a dumb laff but a sharp-eyed homage to the 'free to be you and me'-ism of early Eighties youth culture."
"...a funny spoof of '80s coming-of-age flicks..."
--Jonathan Foreman, NEW YORK POST
Moira Macdonald, SEATTLE TIMES
"The movie is pretty damn funny."
--Ron Wells, FILM THREAT
"Silly and self-aware, Wet Hot American Summer first elicits chuckles at such throwaway lines as 'Meet me at the picnic table in 10 seconds,' then belly laughs, as the action expands to such a preposterous scale... And at the end, just when its seems all the loose ends have been tied up, Hollywood-style, the film regroups, opting to push the envelope just a little further. Best of all, the actors look like they're having a good time doing it."
"Wet Hot does get better as it goes along, moving from mildly to pretty funny, then to erratically really funny, then hitting that Airplane! level of pointillist absurdism where you feel jokes flat-lining because you're still in tears over the last brilliant one. The apex arrives when discreetly multicast Showalter hosts Camp Firewood's last-night talent show as a 'visiting Catskills comedian' of stupefying banality. He's so unfunny, he's positively hysterical.
(Christopher Meloni's) climactic gotta-be-me cafeteria speech is the kind of character payoff that can make a whole movie worthwhile."
--Dennis Harvey, SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
"In its knowing parodies, the movie is able to twist summer camp movie cliches into odd and funny shapes... particularly good (as always) is Janeane Garofalo as Beth, the camp's singularly blase director..."
--Kenneth Chanko, THE STAR-LEDGER
"In its own way beyond evaluation, David Wain and Michael Showalter's Wet Hot American Summer not only parodies Meatballs-era teen summer camp comedies, but more or less parodies the parodies - or the notion of satirizing such tripe to begin with.... The film exists in a humid meta-movie ether all its own. Paul Rudd's surly stud and Amy Poehler's on-the-edge talent-show director are reliably funny...it might be ahead of its time."
--Michael Atkinson, VILLAGE VOICE
Wet Hot American Summer was nominated by the Independent Feature Project for the Open Palm Award for outstanding directorial debut.