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Wet Hot American Summer

Posted by martinteller on January 21, 2014

It’s the last day at Camp Firewood, 1981, and the counselors have a host of personal issues to work through.  Director Beth (Janeane Garafolo) is trying to attract the attention of an astrophysics professor (David Hyde Pierce) who lives nearby.  Coop (Michael Showalter) carries a torch for Katie (Marguerite Moreau), but she’s involved with her douchey boyfriend Andy (Paul Rudd), whose eye often wanders to the sultry Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks).  Gail (Molly Shannon) is coping with a divorce.  Gary (A.D. Miles) works in the kitchen, where he’s bullied by chef Gene (Christopher Meloni), a Vietnam vet who impulsively blurts out his odd kinks.  McKinley (Michael Ian Black) is keeping a secret from his friends Gary and JJ (Zak Orth).  Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are trying to stage a dynamite production of a song from “Godspell” for the talent show.  Victor (Ken Marino) is eager to hook up with good-time girl Abby (Marisa Ryan) but is called away on a river rafting trip with Neil (Joe Lo Truglio).  And a falling piece of Skylab threatens the lives of all the campers.

Way back in the early 2000’s (hard to believe that’s now actually “way back”) I picked this up on a whim when I saw the DVD for a cheap price.  I made it through about half an hour before shutting it off.  I didn’t hate it, I just found the humor didn’t connect with me.  I never got into “The State” when it was on TV, and the writers (including director David Wain) and much of the cast come from that sketch show.  But since then I’ve gotten to know and appreciate several of the stars through other shows and podcasts, especially Poehler, Rudd, Black, Miles and Showalter.  So I thought it was time to reassess WHAS.

This time around was more successful (perhaps partly because I was watching it with my girlfriend and not alone… comedy always works better as a communal experience).  Some of the jokes didn’t do anything for me, but the majority of them elicited at least a smile.  Favorite bits include the “for my pussy” line (the one thing I remembered from my first viewing), the meta breakdown of the big softball game, Meloni talking to a can of vegetables, and everything Paul Rudd does.  Rudd definitely wins the MVP award for this movie.  Least successful is the running gag with Shannon being comforted by her crafts students, a half-hearted gag that never goes anywhere.

But the movie tries to do so many things at once, some are obviously going to miss.  I had a fun time watching it, even though I probably wouldn’t bother to see it again.  I enjoy when it ratchets up into absurdity, taking movie clichés to their extremes.  But really what I liked most were the smaller moments… the ridiculous shirt exchange between Coop and Katie, Rudd’s hilarious over-the-top grimaces at having to clean up after himself, Gary’s “whatever” reactions to Gene’s blustery intimidation.  And, of course… “for my pussy”.  Rating: Good (74)


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