Wet Hot American Summer Reviews
Capitalizing on the recent success of the teen sex comedy American Pie (1999), Wet Hot American Summer takes a low budget and uses it to put contemporary actors back in the heyday of the genre within the 1980's. It does this by spoofing the genre as a whole through capitalizing also on the success of the hugely successful horror-comedy spoof Scary Movie (1999). The start of this amalgamation of genres comes from having obviously adult actors portraying archetypes of the young characters from teenage films. Since it relies on a generic comedy formula and a series of inconsistent spoof gags, the success of the humour can be rather sporadic.
The teen sex comedy genre is largely a parody genre in itself. It relies on gags that come from ridiculous situations and idiotic teenagers in the endless pursuit of sex. As a means of parodying an already ludicrous genre, Wet Hot American Summer is full of ridiculous plot points and meta-humour. Director David Wain ensures that it doesn't even pretend to have a direct plot so that nobody can take the film seriously in the slightest and as a result it is certainly an easy experience to watch. It's just that some of the gags can be a little too stupid for their own good. The way the film parodies 80's movie conventions and uses its cast is worthy of praise since the general idea of an ensemble cast of great talent in such a low-brow comedy is funny enough, yet many of its jokes are too simplistic or repetitive to achieve all that much. Some are really memorable such as the parody of teen romance cliches and the use of a training montage to a catch 80's-style song entitled "Higher and Higher" by Craig Wedren and Theodore Shapiro, while others such as Victor Pulak's quest to lose his virginity can end up stretched on for too long.
Essentially, it all boils down to the fact that Wet Hot American Summer is a ridiculously absurdist comedy which can be a little too ridiculous for its own good. It's clearly aimed at a cult audience as Wet Hot American Summer is a film that takes pride in being dumb, and audiences have to have a very lowbrow standard of comedic expectation if they are to enjoy it. Even then, it walks an inconsistent path. However, since the majority of key actors in the film have gone on to have extensively large careers, Wet Hot American Summer retains more relevance now than ever before. Since the eventual success of the film and the cast was enough to justify creating a superior Netflix prequel series entitled Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015), its lasting legacy is indebted to the ridiculous vision of David Wain.
Considering that the film is a low-budget production, it relies on the talents of the cast to bolster it to success more than anything. It can't get big-budget visuals in to provide the gags or use a creative variety of settings as the source of the jokes, relying almost entirely on the actors to find humour in a single campsite setting. The scenery for the film is nice and gives vibrant colour to the visuals of the film within the context of minimal locations, yet they leave the actors to find the situations themselves instead of relying much on their location to procure humour. In short, Wet Hot American Summer's success relies almost entirely on the talents of its cast.
Paul Rudd is the most iconic cast member in Wet Hot American Summer. Having just portrayed the titular role in the superhero blockbuster Ant-Man (2015), his career is at an all-time high right now which makes his role in Wet Hot American Summer funnier. The same can be said about four-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper in the supporting role of a geeky gay teenager, but Paul Rudd dominates in this area as the leading braindead rebel without a cause. His shallow and idiotic nature hides nothing about the stereotype as it is clearly a role the actor loves playing, and he embodies himself so deeply in the part that he makes the bleak repetition of the role instinctive to the point of hilarity. Paul Rudd's comic brilliance is a key factor in the success of Wet Hot American Summer.
However, David Hyde Pierce is the cast member responsible for the funniest moment in Wet Hot American Summer. Coming from a time when he was still playing Niles Crane on the sitcom Frasier (1993-2004), David Hyde Pierce steps away from the iconic role yet brings his neurotic nature with him to put it into the role of Professor Henry Newman. This time, it is in the role of an intelligent but anxious man pursuing a woman of interest amid all his confusion. The aforementioned moment of greatness comes from a casual conversation David Hyde Pierce shares with Janeane Garofolo where she is encouraging him to attend the campsite against his reluctance when out of nowhere he angrily shouts "I said no!" before reverting back to his stereotypical self. As a fan of his many roles in television and cinema, I can certify that this one scene is the greatest thing he has ever done.
Janeane Garafolo puts a very gentle spirit into her role which makes her a very likable character, working to create a very funny chemistry with David Hyde Pierce and adding a humourous element of relationship drama to the film.
Michael Showalter works to put a really geeky nature into his performance which goes off without a hitch and allows for a consistently satirical chemistry with Marguerite Moreau with both actors aware of how pretentious the situation is. Their part in the story may drag on a bit at times, but the actors work to keep it engaging.
Amy Poehler's over-the-top brainless character archetype is full of her distinctive style of comic life which gives her a flair for strong chemistry with Bradley Cooper, and Elizabeth Banks is fun to look back on. And the most ridiculous character in the story is played by Christopher Meloni, sharing a zany chemistry with the voice of H. Jon Benjamin.
Wet Hot American Summer may uneasily blend a satire of 80's cliches with spoof humour to a sporadic rate of success, but the brilliant work of a now-legendary ensemble cast keeps the ludicrous spirit of the film alive through its path of unpredictable twists and turns.