Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wet Hot American Summer

How is it possible to parody something beneath parody? That's the dubious task faced by Wet Hot American Summer, a send-up of the low-budget teen films produced in the '70s and early '80s that seemed to run on a perpetual pay-cable loop throughout the latter decade. Few genres could lend themselves less readily to satire, much less a satire arriving 20 years too late. Or so it would seem. One quality of comedy is that if it's funny, it needs no further justification, and Wet Hot American Summer is funny enough to lay questions to rest. Its action takes place in and around a New England summer camp winding down its final session of 1981. Its residents include a shy camp director (Janeane Garofalo), a vacationing astrophysicist, a recently divorced art teacher (Molly Shannon) who uses her classes as extended therapy sessions, horny counselors (including an especially funny Paul Rudd), and an assortment of easily classifiable preteen campers, each assigned appropriate subplots. Wet Hot comes co-written by David Wain (who directs) and Michael Showalter (who co-stars), both members of the '90s troupe-comedy show The State, and the two have let verisimilitude serve as their guiding principle, starting with the curvy font used in the title sequence and continuing down to a can of the short-lived Pepsi Light. Discovered in the course of channel-flipping, Wet Hot American Summer could pass for the thing it parodies, and Wain and Showalter's straight-faced approach contributes mightily to making the film work. The same quality might also make it indecipherable for anyone not born between 1965 and 1975: The film's creators have settled on an extremely specific subject for their parody, making it possible to mistake an ironic montage sequence set to '80s pop for the real thing. Anyone with a youth misspent watching late-night television, however, should appreciate much of what the film has to offer. Not every bit works, but Wet Hot American Summer snaps along, and Wain and Showalter display such an uncanny knack for sustaining a deadpan—but strangely affectionate—tone that their efforts pay off even when the jokes don't. That might be a happy byproduct of aiming low, but it hardly matters.


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