Film: Wet Hot American Summer


"Well, we made it through the summer in one piece, except for a few campers who are lepers."
Beth (Janeane Garofalo)

Wet Hot American Summer is a 2001 comedy cult film directed by Stella's David Wain (yes, that David Wain, also known for directing Role Models). The film is about the adventures, both physical and emotional, of the preteen campers, teenage counselors and adult camp directors on last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood on August 18th, 1981. It stars Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Ian Black, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Zak Orth, A.D. Miles and members of MTV's sketch comedy group The State. It was written by Wain and Showalter.

It is in many ways a send-up of the goofy teen comedies (often set at college or camp) that were quite popular around the time period the movie is set in, without ever parodying individual scenes. It is a rollercoaster ride through almost the whole spectrum of teenage emotions, from angst to Wangst. It is the last day of summer camp. It is the first day of the third week of August. It's a masterpiece.

A prequel series focusing on the first day of summer is due to premiere appropriately enough sometime during summer 2015 through Netflix. The original cast will reprise their roles 14 years after the film's release, meaning Rule of Funny is in full effect.

This film includes examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: The entire camp. Listen to the names Janeane Garofalo calls out in the cafeteria for the "early bus to Boston" (they're all incredibly stereotypical Jewish names, and include "David Ben Gurion", played as if she is literally just trying to come with names that sound Jewish with "Ira Goldberg…stein).
  • American Title
  • Anything That Moves: Abby.
  • Black Comedy: More like dead 6-year-olds. ("It's your job to make sure kids don't drown!")
    • To be more specific, at least two children die over the course of the movie, two more are left in the woods to die after witnessing the aforementioned deaths, and several more probable deaths are referred to offhand, including the "lepers" in the page quote and children whom Beth "forgot to mention" were trapped in the ropes course... yesterday.
  • Character Filibuster: First Coop to Katie ("I don't care that you're bowlegged, and I don't care that you're bilingual...") and then vice versa.
  • Covers Always Lie: This DVD cover, which was designed and released after the success of David Wain's Role Models starring Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks, prominently features Rudd, Banks, and Molly Shannon (the latter of whom was a secondary-to-tertiary character), but makes no references to Michael Showalter and Marguerite Moreau's characters, who are at the heart of the entire story (although Showalter's name thankfully still makes the cover).
  • Dawson Casting: Parodied. The 16-year-old camp counselors are all played by actors in their late 20s.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in the series. It's supposed to be a prequel and despite a 14-year time gap, it has the same cast the movie did.
  • The Eighties: Oh boy....
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Subverted. Victor and Neil's subplot ends with a parody of one of these, but it's well before the movie itself is over.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Takes great pleasure playing with this trope. 95% of the film takes place over the course of a single day(August 18th, 1981, with the opening and ending scenes taking place on the previous night and next morning respectively), even showing regular updates about the time of day, but an absurdly large quantity of events are packed into that day, stretching the timeline almost beyond belief.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Played straight with Coop and Katie for almost the entire film, and then subverted at the last minute when Katie realizes that she'd rather be with super-hot Jerk Ass Andy. It's a surprisingly truthful ending for such an otherwise ridiculous movie.
  • Good Times Montage: The counselors "hourlong" trip into town, which starts out innocently but then degrades into a drugged-out parody where the kids start out smoking cigarettes and quickly go to robbing old ladies to feed their newfound cocaine and heroin addictions. Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • Handsome Lech: Andy.
    Andy: I'd give anything for two minutes in the closet with Lindsay.
    J.J.: What about Katie?
    Andy: Who?
    J.J.: Awesome.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Averted with McKinley and Ben, whose relationship is perhaps the only one in the film not played for laughs.
  • Hollywood Genius: Deliberately/satirically, with David Hyde Pierce's Henry.
  • Insult Backfire: "Douchebags are hygenic products. I take that as a compliment."
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Oh dear god, try convincing your friends this isn't a porn flick once you tell them the title.
  • Jerk Ass: Andy, and Victor to a certain extent.
    • Just calling Andy a Jerk Ass doesn't quite do the character justice; quoth Seanbaby: "Paul Rudd is so good at playing a dick boyfriend that Rihanna ducks when she watches Wet Hot American Summer."
    • Katie's final speech cements her as one.
  • Lame Rhyme Dodge: Gene tends to accidentally mention his odd fetishes and then offer up a lame rhyme dodge:
    Gary: You said you were going to... fondle your sweaters.
    Gene: Ah, uh - no I didn't. I said... fondue the cheddar... I was thinking about making fondue with cheddar cheese for dinner tonight.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Forcefully parodied between Neil and Victor.
  • Nice Guy: Coop, who is more-or-less an early prototype of Michael Showalter's Baxter Elliot Sherman.
  • Notable Original Music: "Show me the fever/Into the fire/Takin' it higher and higher!"
  • Obvious Stunt Double: Whenever Neil climbs on the motorcycle it not so seamlessly cuts to another man who looks nothing like him wearing the same costume, in a cheap wig riding away. At one point the double even slowly and awkwardly rides the motorcycle directly toward the camera. After panning away to others, it whips back to show the actor now straddling the bike.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Intentional with Victor's raft rescue.
  • Pool Scene: More like lake scenes, but two notable ones, both mostly involving gratuitous shots of Elizabeth Banks in bikinis.
  • Precision F-Strike: Several of the best in movie history, notably from Janeane Garofalo and Zak Orth.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: One of the counselors is hyping up the camp baseball team for the climactic game against the Rich Kids from the other side of the lake. He re-tells their season story, which of course involves every single stereotype of this very trope including its name, only for the kids to complain that they don't really want to play because it's all kind of trite. So they call off the match, and their coach, the other team's coach and all their players are totally cool with it.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Meathead jock Victor is secretly a virgin, desperate for one night with camp bicycle Abby.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Gene, played for laughs.
  • Straight Gay: McKinley, for the most part.
  • Summer Campy: Parodied pretty much throughout the entire film.
  • Training Montage: Parodied beautifully as Gene teaches Coop "the new way", all set to the strains of "Higher and Higher".
  • You Must Be Cold: Another trope, another absurd parody.