Despite my film major upbringing, I have no pretensions towards movie criticdom. However, an issue must be addressed. I read some reviews online of the film Wet Hot American Summer, released in early August of this year, which claimed that the movie was “unfunny” and its jokes were “lame”. Also, it is “ineptly made”.
Let me tell you, not as any sort of cultural commentator or social critic, but as an average, intelligent human being who doesn’t laugh at things that aren’t funny: they are wrong. VERY wrong. Job-risking wrong. Wet Hot American Summer is easily the funniest film I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the most meticulously crafted. The critics don’t seem to get the joke.
The movie, made by folks from MTV’s The State (which I have never seen), is ostensibly a parody of early ’80s summer camp movies such as Meatballs. But that’s not quite what it is. “Parody” nowadays takes various scenes from popular movies, replaces the actors with “funny” equivalents, and adds a “funny” twist to make the scene “funny”. Sometimes, what is “funny” is actually funny, but check out this list: Spaceballs. Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Scary Movie. Repossessed. Loaded Weapon 1. Hot Shots!. Well, I liked Hot Shots!. But these movies are all examples of what the American “parody” movie has become.
I left Airplane! off the list because it’s a different animal. I can’t quite explain what the difference is, but I think it has something to do with the idea that Airplane! is actually a serious movie, not conventionally a comedy at all, but the dramatic situations are completely stretched to the point of absurdity – which is what makes them funny. The “gags” in the movie (the inflating automatic pilot, the romantic flashback stuff) are actually where the movie is weaker, and the stronger moments are the ones that are completely deadpan, yet make absolutely no sense (the young boy offering the young girl coffee, pretty much every scene Leslie Nielsen is in).
Wet Hot American Summer is anomalous in kind of the same way. It’s not a deconstruction of a summer camp movie, it is a summer camp movie. A hilarious, ridiculous, absurd one. It’s what a summer camp movie would have been if such movies were smart. And it’s made beautifully, right down to the trashy, grainy cinematography and the bad continuity, all clearly very intentional and thought-out.
One review I read spoke of David Hyde Pierce (whose scenes of pure awkwardness with Janeane Garofalo are just priceless), “who, in his work as Niles on Frasier, does some of the most talented farce acting any actor has accomplished in the last few years”. Sure, I love him on Frasier. But he’s played that character forever. The reviewer then goes on to say David Hyde Pierce is given nothing to work with. I disagree. Hearing David Hyde Pierce say, in a moment of frustration, “Fuck my cock!” is alone worth the price of admission. It’s difficult to say which actor gives the funniest performance – Paul Rudd is great, Michael Ian Black has some great scenes, and of course Michael Showalter as the sympathetic hero – but I think I’d have to give the edge to Christopher Meloni, of all people – the lead on Law & Order: SVU but here a crazy, bearded Vietnam-vet cook who steals every scene he’s in.
Again, I’m not a movie critic. I don’t want to be a movie critic. It doesn’t matter how I explain it. Wet Hot American Summer was damn funny. Go see it.