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 has no real overarching plot. Instead, it's a collection of intertwined vignettes that get increasingly absurd as they go on and run the gamut of teenage emotions, from angst to Wangst. In simple terms: it's a masterpiece.

A prequel series focusing on the first day of summer, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, premiered on July 31st, 2015 through Netflix. The original adult cast reprised their roles 14 years after the film's release, meaning Rule of Funny is in full effect.

This film includes examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Katie outright tells Coop that she'd take Andy over him any day even if he is a Jerkass who cheats on her constantly, just because he's better-looking.
  • American Title
  • Anything That Moves: Abby. She makes out with at least 4 people in less than a day, including a 10-year-old camper and Lindsay.
  • Black Comedy: Frequently, and at the expense of children. ("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.
  • Brick Joke: Early on in the day, a few of the counselors decide that they should all meet back at the camp in 10 years, which turns into a short debate about whether they should meet at 9 AM "so we can be here by 9:30" or just call it 9:30 and agree to be on time. They all agree to meet at 9:30, and the movie moves on without bringing any of this up again. After the credits, there's a brief flashforward to 10 years in the future. J.J. walks into a room full of the other counselors a little after 9:30 and says he thought that was when they'd agreed to meet, but Susie tells him they'd said 9 so they could be there by 9:30.
  • But Not Too Gay: Defied and inverted. None of the straight couples go farther onscreen than making out, while McKinley and Ben get a pretty hardcore sex scene.
    • Played straight at the wedding—they get a blink-and-you-miss-it kiss, then move into a hug instead. At their own wedding.
  • 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.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Virtually every character displays shades of this, though special mention goes to Gene, who is indescribably bizarre.
  • Comedic Sociopathy
  • 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).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: While casual homophobia wasn't exactly rare in the early 2000s, the characters' use of slurs like "dyke" and "fag" was still considered much ruder than it would have been when the movie was set.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Coop, who is more-or-less an early prototype of Michael Showalter's Baxter Elliot Sherman.
  • Double Take: Andy does one when he sees a newly-buff Coop.
  • The '80s: 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.
    • Best exemplified by their trip into town, which starts of innocently enough with them smoking weed, then quickly devolves into them snatching old ladies' purses to feed their new heroin and cocaine addictions. When they return, J.J. says they've only been gone for an hour.
  • 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 Jerkass 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.
  • Hammerspace: at the talent show, Coop gives Katie a gift box the size to contain a wristwatch, with enough room to contain his favorite shirt.
  • 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.
  • Hair Trigger Sound Effect: Any time a prop is thrown off screen is foleyed with the sound of a clay pot shattering
  • Hide Your Gays: 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.
  • Hypocritical Humor: McKinley fears being harassed by J.J. and Gary in the school canteen after his wedding with Ben, but has no qualms about bullying Steve in the talent show.
  • Informed Flaw: Parodied with the performance of "Day by Day". Before it begins, Susie mentions how they "suck dick". We see their surprisingly good rendition, as well as the audience singing and clapping along. However when it ends, the audience then boos them.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Katie dumping Coop at the end for Andy was harsh, but her motives aren't impossible to understand. As she point out, she's only sixteen. She isn't ready for a romantic relationship and just wants sex.
  • 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.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Since the movie's made up of vignettes rather than one cohesive story, there are dozens of characters who all interact and cross over into one another's plotlines.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Forcefully parodied between Neil and Victor.
  • 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. When Neil rides back to camp, the double even slowly and awkwardly rides the motorcycle directly toward the camera. After panning away to Beth, it whips back to show Joe Lo Trugilo now straddling the bike.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Intentional with Victor's raft rescue.
  • Perverse Sexual Lust: Gene's tendency to mention his bizarre fetishes (fondling sweaters, smearing mud on his ass.) is a frequent Running Gag. His interactions with the talking can of vegetables helps him openly admit to them.
  • Planet of Steves: It's easy to miss since they're only mentioned in a couple of scenes, but at least 6 of the older girls at camp are named Debbie (Debbie Waxman, Debbie Epstein, Debbie with mono, McKinley's cousin Debbie-Debbie, Tall Debbie, and Debbie Freeman).
  • Pool Scene: More like lake scenes, but two notable ones, both mostly involving gratuitous shots of Elizabeth Banks in a bikini.
  • 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.
  • The Stinger: After the credits, there's a flashforward to a few of the counselors reuniting in 1991, fulfilling a Brick Joke from earlier in the film.
  • Straight Gay: McKinley, for the most part.
  • Summer Campy: Parodied throughout the entire film.
  • Training Montage: Parodied beautifully as Gene teaches Coop "the new way", all set to the strains of "Higher and Higher".
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: At the end, Coop thinks Katie will leave Andy for him after all. He's wrong.
  • You Must Be Cold: Another trope, another absurd parody.