August 2, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Wet Hot American Summer

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Wet Hot American Summer

Today's movie: Wet Hot American Summer, 2001 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this was written by, directed by, and stars many of the members of the old comedy group "The State;" and that was the whole reason I watched the entire run of The State for the first time last year, so that I could then tackle all the dozens of projects its members have since made and understand a bit of context of how they came about.

The reality: Interesting, flawed and...interesting. Because for those who don't already know, this film was David Wain and Michael Showalter's attempt at honoring the kind of loose, almost plotless buddy films of the '70s that they grew up on, not just other summer-camp movies like Meatballs but such franchises as the "Smoky and the Bandit" films that feel almost like that there was no script at all, that the cameras were simply turned on and all these real-life friends allowed to ham it up for two hours. And so that makes Wet Hot a real mess that's impossible to deny, so much of a mess that it's sometimes nearly unwatchable; because if these '70s antecedents were trying to present a coherent story and merely failed, you can just imagine what an unstructured bit of chaos this film is for deliberately trying from page one to be incoherent, the main thing that makes it so polarizing even among hardcore comedy fans. But on the other hand, this is also one of the most charming films I've seen in years too, a legitimate loving homage that gets everything right about what it was like to watch a film like Little Darlings as an early-'80s teenager, full of sexual tension and short-shorts and wistful moments that lead straight into poop jokes; and while the film occasionally delves into out-and-out parodies of such tropes, part of the uneven tone that makes it so controversial among comedy fans, in general it's a straight-on homage to such tropes instead of a cruel satire of them, the thing that makes all the difference between this and, say, recent dreadful Hollywood remakes of Starsky and Hutch or 21 Jump Street. Plus it's a veritable Who's Who of famous 21st-century comedians, including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Ian Black, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Marino, Bradley Cooper, Judah Friedlander and even more; plus of course Wain has gone on to break into mainstream Hollywood (his latest was the minor hit Wanderlust with Jennifer Aniston), and Showalter is already nearly a legend in the comedy world (he's been one of the creators of Stella, The Ten, The Daily Show and Michael and Michael Have Issues, plus hosts one of the most popular shows at, The Michael Showalter Showalter), which makes it fascinating to see an early project like this of theirs; plus who knew that Amy Poehler could be so legitimately hot as a slutty cheerleader?! It's a contested film to be sure, but at least for your comedy street cred you should see Wet Hot American Summer at least once; just don't come complaining to me if you find it idiotic, because there's a very good chance that you might.

Strangest piece of trivia: It rained for 25 days of this production's 29-day shoot; in fact, in many scenes you can see it raining through windows while the characters are indoors, just to have the characters walk out the door to full sunshine.

Worth your time? Kinda

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:29 AM, August 2, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |