Set on the last day of camp, in the hot summer of 1981, "Wet Hot American Summer" follows a group of counselors who are each trying to complete their unfinished business before the day ends. The entire summer of pent-up sexual frustrations, unresolved post-traumatic stress, pending separations and of course, the talent show, all weigh heavily on the minds and groins of counselors and campers alike.
Wet Hot American Summer is a 2001 American satirical romantic comedy film directed by David Wain from a screenplay written by Wain and Michael Showalter. The film features an ensemble cast, including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter (and various other members of MTVs sketch comedy group The State), Elizabeth Banks, Michael Ian Black, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Zak Orth, and A.D. Miles. The film takes place during the last full day at a fictional summer camp in 1981, and spoofs the sex comedies aimed at teen audiences of that era.
The film was a critical and commercial failure, but has since developed a cult following, as many of its cast members have gone on to high-profile work. Netflix will produce an eight-episode prequel series in 2015, starring many of the original cast members, including Cooper, Garofalo, Rudd, Poehler, Banks and Hyde Pierce, among others.
The setting is Camp Firewood, the year 1981. It's the last day before everyone goes back to the real world, but there's still a summer's worth of unfinished business to resolve. At the center of the action is camp director Beth, who struggles to keep order while she falls in love with the local astrophysics professor. He is busy trying to save the camp from a deadly piece of NASA's Skylab which is hurtling toward earth. All that, plus: a dangerous waterfall rescue, love triangles, misfits, cool kids, and talking vegetable cans. The questions will all be resolved, of course, at the big talent show at the end of the day.
In 1981, Camp Firewood, a summer camp located near Waterville, Maine, is preparing for its last day of camp. Counselors have one last chance to have a romantic encounter with another person at Camp Firewood. The summer culminates in a talent show.
Beth (Janeane Garofalo), the camp director, struggles to keep her counselors in order—and her campers alive—while falling in love with Henry (David Hyde Pierce), an astrophysics associate professor at Thomas College. Henry has to devise a plan to save the camp from a piece of NASAs Skylab, which is falling to Earth.
Coop (Michael Showalter) has a crush on Katie (Marguerite Moreau), his fellow counselor, but has to pry her away from her rebellious, obnoxious, and obviously unfaithful boyfriend, Andy (Paul Rudd). Only Gene (Christopher Meloni), the shell-shocked Vietnam war veteran and camp chef, can help Coop win Katie—with some help from a talking can of vegetables (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin).
All the while, Gary (A.D. Miles), Genes unfortunately chosen apprentice, and J.J. (Zak Orth) attempt to figure out why McKinley (Michael Ian Black) hasnt been with a woman, the reason being that McKinley is in love with Ben, whom he marries in a ceremony by the lake; Victor (Ken Marino) attempts to sleep with the resident loose-girl Abby (Marisa Ryan); and Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) attempt to produce and choreograph the greatest talent show Camp Firewood has ever seen.
The film is based on the experiences Wain had while attending Camp Modin, a Jewish camp, located in Belgrade, Maine, and Showalter had at Camp Mohawk in the Berkshires in Cheshire, Massachusetts. During one scene, the counselors take a trip into Waterville, Maine, which is not far from the camp. It is also a parody of, and homage to, other films about summer camp such as Meatballs (1979) and Indian Summer (1993). According to Wain, they wanted to make a film structured like films such as Nashville, Dazed and Confused and Do the Right Thing—"films that take place in one contained time period that have lots of different characters."
The films financing took three years to assemble; in a June 2011 interview, Wain revealed the films budget was $1.8 million; he noted that during the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, the film had been promoted as costing $5 million, in an attempt to attract a better offer from a distributor.
Principal photography lasted 28 days, and it "rained on all of them"; Exterior shots were filmed catch-as-catch can, and, in many interior scenes, rain seen outside turns into sun as soon as characters step outside. The actors breath can be seen in most outdoor scenes, and even in some indoor ones because of the cold. The film was shot at Camp Towanda in Honesdale, Pennsylvania and is rated R for adult humor, language, and sexual content.
As the film is set in the early 1980s, the films soundtrack features songs from many popular bands of the era, most notably Jefferson Starship, Rick Springfield, Loverboy, and KISS.
Wet Hot American Summer premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, where it was screened four times to sold-out crowds, though it failed to attract a distributor. Months later, USA Films offered the filmmakers $100,000 for the film, with virtually no participation for the filmmakers, an offer the films investors accepted. It premiered in New York City on July 27, 2001, then received a theatrical release limited to fewer than 30 cities.
Wet Hot American Summer received mostly negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 31%, based on 72 reviews, with the sites critical consensus reading, "As comedy, Wet Hot American Summer is a slapdash, fragmented affair that misses more often than hits. As parody, it fails because it attempts to satirize something ridiculous and self-parodying in itself." Metacritic gives the film a score of 42 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Notably, Roger Ebert rated the film with one star out of four, and despised it so much that his review took the form of a sarcastic tribute to Allan Shermans "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh".
In contrast, Entertainment Weeklys Owen Gleiberman awarded the film an "A" and named it as one of the ten best films of the year. Newsweek???s David Ansen also lauded it, calling it a "gloriously silly romp" that "made me laugh harder than any other movie this summer. Make that this year." Numerous other critics have praised the film as a witty pop satire and it has gone on to achieve a cult following.
Actress Kristen Bell stated on NPR on September 2, 2012, that this was her favorite film of all time, having watched it "hundreds of times". NPR host Jesse Thorn said on the April 29, 2014, episode of Bullseye, "When someone has an open enough heart to accept this silliness - and thats what its about for me, an open heart - if someones heart is open to Wet Hot American Summer, they love it. And thats when I know that me and them, weve got an unbreakable bond. Together forever. Like camp counselors."
The film was released in both VHS and DVD formats on January 15, 2002. In 2011, Wain tried to convince Universal Studios to do either a 10th anniversary home video re-release with extra features, or perhaps a Blu-ray release, but Universal rejected the idea.The film would eventually be released on Blu-ray on May 12, 2015.
Events were held around the country to celebrate the films 10-year anniversary in 2011 and 2012, including a screening of the film in Boston, an art show in Santa Monica of works inspired by the film with a reception hosted by Wain, a screening at the Los Angeles Film School with a Q&A with Wain, a midnight screening in Cleveland, Ohio, a 10th anniversary celebration event with the members of Stella in Brooklyn, and a reading of the script at the San Francisco Comedy Festival with much of the original cast.
Meatballs (1979). Meatballs Part II (1984). Camp Nowhere (1994). Paul Rudd and Janeane Garofalo appear in Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten. Indian Summer (1993).
On January 9, 2015, Deadline reported that an eight-episode miniseries based on the film had begun shooting for release on Netflix. Almost the entire cast of the original film will be returning, along with Showalter and Wain. The series will premiere in July 2015.