In the summer of 2001, an ensemble cast of young comedians and actors unleashed the mother of all summer camp romps on an unsuspecting world, Wet Hot American Summer. Directed by David Wain, the film was given an extremely limited theatrical release after premiering in New York on July 27, 2001 (and six months before that at Sundance), and went largely unnoticed at first (I myself didn’t catch it personally until years after its release when I came across it on cable TV).
Set in the summer of 1981, it follows a group of counselers and kids (the majority purposely played by actors far too old for their parts) at Camp Firewood in Maine. Janeane Garofalo leads the group as Camp Director Beth, who does her best to hold together her group of misfits – each focused on wrapping up their own indivdual pursuits and/or love triangles – on the last day of camp, often with over-the-top results.
Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce plays a professor in a role seemingly tailored for him, while several members of the MTV show The State, including Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, and Michael Showalter, turn in some showstopping moments. Paul Rudd also plays one of the best/worst bad guys on screen to date, while a young Elizabeth Banks slinks across each and every scene as the stereotypical ‘loose’ girl.
But the most unforgettable performance has got to go to Law & Order‘s Christopher Meloni, who cranks out the crazy as a cook/Vietnam vet who talks to a can of mixed vegetables, and helps the kids with their ‘woes’ (the montage with him and Showalter is without a doubt the standout moment of the entire film). This was not the only time Meloni would let the guard to his more serious side down (having since appeared in two Harold and Kumur films as well), but certainly one of his most memorable moments doing so.
Of course the music reflects the time it’s set in as well; tracks by Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, and Quarterflash make their way throughout the picture. Several of the bands featured I have since personally seen live, including KISS (the solo from “Beth” can be heard at one point), Rick Springfield (“Love is Alright Tonite”), and Loverboy, who have not one, but two tracks on the soundtrack with “Turn Me Loose” and “When It’s Over” (hearing the latter two songs used in the film may have actually been the moment I realized Loverboy wasn’t half bad, and might have even helped convince me to go see the band in concert with my wife in 2014, see attached flyer below). Unfortunately, I have very few usable photos of Loverboy, thanks to it being a last minute show, and our not having a SLR camera with us at the time (anyone out there with pics from the show, I would love to see them!).
The characters have since been brought back twice via two Neflix shows; First Day of Camp in 2015, and Ten Years Later in 2017. But I digress; if you have never seen Wet Hot American Summer, now would surely be the perfect time to give it a chance. After all, you still have a few weeks left until the ‘last day of camp!’