Satire films are difficult to review. Do we judge them simply based on how well-written the jokes are? Or how good the story is? Already, they have to be given a handicap because there are some aspects of ordinary film that, by nature, they usually don’t possess–like character depth or a traditional narrative.
But on top of it all, they’re supposed to be funny. And while this one may not be laugh-out-loud for everyone, it definitely has its moments. The style of humor is consistent. It never tries to be something it’s not. And for those who enjoy its irreverence, they will get a lot out of this one.
Wet Hot American Summer takes place on the last day of camp, during the summer of 1981. But instead of it being about the campers, it’s about the counselors and how they all try to make the best of their final 24 hours.
With a cast that reads off more like a very odd Garry Marshall holiday-themed film, one would think that this was the comedy event of the year (consisting of Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Molly Shannon, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Ian Black, A.D. Miles, et al). But unfortunately, most of the talents went underutilized and nobody gets nearly enough screen time.
And despite this being a summer camp themed movie, there are not a lot of archetypes. The characters are all pretty much the same type of stupid, with not much varying in personalities.
There are some really clever bits, but it’s mostly just a massive compilation of jokes without any real overarching linearity. It resembles some sort of modern-day Airplane! but even Airplane! had us invested in how it would end.
But oddly enough, the movie’s best moments all involve the kids in some way–although the film is meant to be about the counselors. And the highlight is the penultimate scene at the End of Summer Talent Show, where we are treated to an MC that echoes a demented Henny Youngman.
As much as I laughed, I was hoping this movie would be something a little different. With not a lot of good coming-of-age summer camp movies out there to choose from, Wet Hot American Summer misses an opportunity to really touch upon the nostalgia of going to camp. There are some really great scenes and story arcs that it doesn’t capitalize on. As a former camper-turned-counselor, a lot of my own memories from growing up happened at camp, and I just wish that the filmmakers weren’t so concerned with making it a satire. It’s not like there’s some overindulgence of these type of films for a satire to be warranted. It has the ingredients of a really great, meaningful film, but sacrifices this for the sake of irreverent jokes–albeit a few, I admit, I laughed at.