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From Under A Rock: Wet Hot American Summer

July 15, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Wet Hot American Summer  


I (Michael) am pursuing a career in comedy, and in the process, I have lots of influences. This week, in continuing with my theme of “summer movies”, I have chosen to pick a movie that is irreverent and dumb, but super funny and has an all-star cast of comedians, including almost all of The State, among others.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Planet of the Apes. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Wet Hot American Summer.

Wet Hot American Summer
Released: July 27th, 2001
Directed by: David Wain
Written by: David Wain & Michael Showalter
Michael Showalter as Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg
Marguerite Moreau as Katie
Paul Rudd as Andy
Elizabeth Banks as Lindsay
Christopher Meloni as Gene
Janeane Garofalo as Beth
David Hyde Pierce as Professor Henry Newman
Michael Ian Black as McKinley
Bradley Cooper as Ben
Amy Poehler as Susie
Ken Marino as Victor Pulak
Joe Lo Truglio as Neil
Molly Shannon as Gail von Kleinenstein
H. Jon Benjamin as a Can of Mixed Vegetables

Michael Ornelas: I love this movie. It became a cult classic, and while on the surface it’s idiotic, I feel that the themes in the film are stronger than one might expect.

Aaron Hubbard: My immediate reaction to this was “Is there a point?” I think the point is just to be funny, but I had a really hard time latching onto this one in any meaningful way.
A Look at Growing Up
Michael: At its core, this movie is people in their 30s satirizing the way they behaved as teenagers. This sort of hindsight leads to some truly brilliant comedy (my personal favorite being the somewhat-devastating ending for Coop as Katie tells him that she’s going to stay with the way shittier alternative (played by Paul Rudd’s Andy) despite being cheated on and treated horribly because he’s hot and she pretty much just cares about sex right now. This sort of lucidity toward typical teenage behavior had me cracking up. In fact, pretty much everyone in this movie is learning the lessons of summer camp through experiences that are completely atypical to summer camp.

Aaron: I think this sort of thing is why I had trouble connecting to the material. Summer camp, dating, mindless sex and what-not just wasn’t my experience as a teen. I didn’t even watch the teen movies this movie is satirizing. I mean, I watched parts of American Pie before I discovered the internet, but as a whole this material has never intrigued me. I felt a bit left out. The closest thing is the weird plot with the nerds saving the day, but even that was just too weird to really work for me.

Michael: I can understand that. Lots of weird stuff happening in the movie, but even still, I thought the movie taught camaraderie with the nerds, how to deal with rejection via Coop and Victor, and that sometimes, douchebags win via Andy. And there was also something in it for adults, as they handled desperate singles in their later years through Beth and Professor Newman, and having a spine through Gail. My favorite thing in the movie though was Gene and the can of mixed vegetables. It was sex-positive and about owning your kinks and quirks without going too far in its perviness. Oh, and there was absolute homosexual tolerance when we see how Ben and McKinley are accepted and even celebrated by their friends as they get married. It turns the trope of not understanding when your friend is different from you on its head and gives a truly sweet love story. There is no joke, and the only thing that’s funny is how it shatters the expectation given the year this came out and the type of characters McKinley is friends with.
Appreciating What Is Outside Your Box
Aaron: When I was first picking college electives, I picked Art Appreciation because the teacher was a family friend and I wanted to take a class from him. The most important lesson I learned from that is that you do not have to like a piece of art in order to appreciate its value. This movie is far out of my wheelhouse of things I look for in a movie, but that’s one of the perks of this column. I get to experience things I normally wouldn’t and try to take something positive from it. My initial take away here was that it’s fine for a movie to just have fun and be silly without really having a greater point. It’s definitely an interesting look at how our perspective changes when we get older and how stupid we sometimes were.

Michael: Hindsight is 20/20. The first time I saw this movie on TV (not sitting down and watching the whole thing), I thought it was stupid, with nothing to offer. But when I sat down and watched it last year (probably 10 years since my first attempted viewing), I loved it. So in that regard, this movie used to be outside of my own box. It’s a “cult” classic for a reason — it’s not immediately accessible. It’s an acquired taste, and it has taken studying comedy for the past 5-6 years for me to really appreciate what’s going on in this film. I feel like I have more perspective on “why” funny things are funny these days, as there is some sort of a road map or formula in comedy, and this movie excels in shining a lot on its funny ideas for maximum results.

Aaron: This might also be another area where I just can’t connect with it on that level. The only things that really made me laugh were the talking can and the impossibly adult child who helps Gail, which quickly went to a place that I would have preferred not to go.
Banks & Rudd
The All-Star Cast
Michael: The fact that all of these people were together in 2000 when the movie filmed baffles me. This is a who’s who of the modern TV/film comedy scene, but it’s not immediately apparent because many of the names in this work behind the camera. The main two people behind the film are David Wain (director) and Michael Showalter (Coop/co-writer) and they spend most of their time these days directing and writing. David Wain was the genius behind Childrens Hospital (which featured much of this cast), and Michael Showalter very recently directed The Big Sick, which is in contention for the best comedy of the year so far. Add to that Amy Poehler, H. Jon Benjamin (the voice behind Sterling Archer, Bob Belcher, and many others), Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, and Michael Ian Black, and you quickly see that this movie was a melding of brilliant minds with amazing careers to follow.

Aaron: And Elizabeth Banks! Who made this movie easier to watch for me. I was astounded when you told me the date on this, as I assumed it was something from 2006 or so. Everybody is recognizable but really young. In an odd way, I think it would actually be fun to see the now all-star cast return to the idea and make a sequel.

Michael: ….um…Netflix? They made a season last year called “First Day of Camp” and it was all these actors on the first day of camp, so just a few weeks prior to the events of this movie. And then in just a few weeks they’re release season 2 which is “Ten Years Later”, and I don’t think I need to explain what that is. Last year’s season was a ton of fun and the upcoming season is a large reason why I picked this when I did.

Aaron: This film generated little but apathy from me while watching it, but I think that’s more of a disconnect for me than any fault of the film itself. I can see why it has a following and the amount of big name talent is just startling in retrospect. But it isn’t for me.


Michael: I think Wet Hot American Summer (and its Netflix season) is a blast with a unique perspective on teenage life. It’s fun, stupid, and smart all at the same time. Not many movies can pull this style off, but this one absolutely did.


Aaron: Watching this reminded me of our Equilibrium column. Both movies utterly failed to connect with one of us. So… we’re square?

Michael: I’ll accept that. I have a few more “out on a limb” picks in the near future so I’m curious to see if those connect or not.

Are you excited for Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week is a favorite from my teenage years, (at least, when I discovered it) and one of the most fun movies from the 1990s.
Michael: I’ve seen bits and pieces of this one but not since I was a child. I’m thrilled for this.

Aaron: It’s one of the most fun Westerns, and Val Kilmer is amazing in it.

What is your favorite modern Western (post-Unforgiven?

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Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Seven Samurai, Bio-Dome, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Tangled, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Wonder Woman, The Way Way Back, Rebel Without a Cause, Predator, Before Sunrise, Evil Dead II, Planet of the Apes, Wet Hot American Summer

Aaron Has Another Column! This week I cover one of the best films ever made, the incomparable 12 Angry Men.

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Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 850 films. Recent reviews include Spider-Man: Homecoming as well as Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The final score: review Average
The 411
This movie is so stupid, but so wonderful at the same time. It split Michael and Aaron, so this grade is reflective of that. One thing they both agree on is how special it is to see all these names in one place at the same time, and how this movie was a springboard for so many careers. With a very unique style of humor, this film makes its mark as a cult classic that will likely be watched for decades to come.