Wet Hot American Summer Rules!
Going to sleepaway camp never looked so strange and felt so right.
The first time I saw Wet Hot American Summer I was semi-stoned. I was in my early 20s and at a small kickback with some of my friends. There used to be a group of us that would hang out constantly because all of us were at that stage in life where you have a shitty job with odd hours and extra time to just do whatever, whenever you wanted.
I had never heard of this movie, so when some dude put it on and ranted and raved about how weird and funny it was, I thought I’d watch for a little bit. At first, I was only mildly amused, but cut to 92 minutes later, my buzz completely worn off by then, and I had been shown one of my new favorite movies. I’m not lying when I say that I can watch this film over and over again, and love it every time. It’s weird, oddly funny, poorly acted (on purpose), and contains a completely bizarre plot.
The cast is chock full of stars who, at the time, were mostly relative unknowns, but a few had been in the cultishly popular sketch show, The State, which is how I recognized most of them during that first watch. I’m not going to even attempt to list all of the actors in this film, but if you’ve never seen this movie, take a moment to look them up.
The movie is set up in vignettes, much like a comedy sketch show. It’s all about teenage camp counselors and their last couple of days working at Camp Firewood in the year 1981. Because the movie was written by David Wain and Michael Showalter, the plot is totally outlandish and enticingly unusual. I mean, there’s a can of mixed vegetables that talks to the chef and claims that it can “suck [his] own dick”.
To further explain the quirky plot, there’s a scene where some of the counselors need to go to town for a bit and end up on a drug binge, an awkward love triangle, a secrect gay romance, and other scenarios. The fact that the cast, who are very obviously adults playing teenagers, roam around this camp overacting and throwing fits makes me shake my head and laugh every time.
Even though it’s become a cult favorite, the movie was a flop when it hit the theaters. I guess, at the time, unless you were a fan of The State, audiences just didn’t get Wain and Showalter’s sense of humor. Luckily for fans of this type of comedy, it has lived on over the years. Netflix even greenlit and produced two spin-off series, which are just as bizarrely funny as the original movie. Personally, I love all of the versions of WHAS, whether it be the original movie, or the two Netflix series.
I fully understand that this is not everyone’s type of comedy, and I get it when people are like, “I don’t get it,” when they watch the movie for the first, and possibly only time. This movie isn’t for everyone, and I like that. I like that the humor is odd and over-the-top, and also understated and subtle. I like that the actors are overdoing it with their performances in almost all of the scenes because there isn’t a naturalness to the comedy.
There are some comedy movies where the writing is slick and the actors seem perfect for the roles because of the way they present the lines. In WHAS, the writing is absurd, the plot is absurd, the acting is absurd and it just makes it that much more interesting because of that absurdity.
Whatever drew me in the first time I watched Wet Hot American Summer at that kickback almost 20 years ago has never stopped pleasing me, and to me, the hallmark of pure entertainment is when you find a film that you can watch hundreds of times and still love it.