Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This one time at camp...

It's official - summer is over. I'm ready for fall; pretty leaves, sweaters, candy corn, pumpkin spice lattes, online dating. Fall is a magical time that doesn't last long enough. That's why it needs to start now.

I would, however, be remiss if I did not give summer a proper send off. I never went to sleep away camp and I only went to day camp once (it was a theatre camp when I was in the 8th grade). I thank my parents everyday that they knew me well enough to never consider sending me into the woods with ill-equipped teenage camp counselors and some notion that I would enjoy being outdoors for long periods of time, playing sports, and generally being in close proximity to bugs. Instead, we spent most summers in Detroit (for at least a few weeks). I learned survival skills like how to eavesdrop on adults while they gossiped, how to make mud pies, the Chicken Dance (but only at Detroit Tigers games), and how to tell the difference between gunfire and fireworks. These are all skills I use to this day.

For me a successful summer (as a child/teen) included the following:
  • Finishing my summer reading list early so the librarian could recommend other books to me that were not necessarily age appropriate but were reading level appropriate for me
  • Taping songs off the radio
  • Watching a bunch of movies and in high school, re-watching The Stand miniseries at least once
  • Working at the theatre (this was also in high school)
  • Getting sunburned and being annoyed by it BUT not wanting to admit that I was at fault for not reapplying sunscreen
  • Going to a theme park (preferably Kings Dominion when the Wayne's World themed section still existed)
  • Staying in air conditioning as much as humanly possible
  • Eating Superman ice cream - it's a Michigan thing
If I ever decided to open my own camp I would include all of these things and focus on cabins designed for optimal reading comfort, crafts that include Lego art and unironic needlepoint, movie nights featuring movies I feel every child/teen should know, and lessons on how to be a good rock and roll citizens. Useful skills that the kids these days need to know.

Despite never going to camp, I love movies about camp. Ernest Goes to Camp, Camp, Meatballs, SpaceCamp, the Sleepaway Camp series, Camp Nowhere, Friday the 13th are some of my favorites. Camp seemed cool and fun and not as dirty as I imagined. And this brings me to the subject of today's Lazy Movie Weekend post, Wet Hot American Summer. 

Normally when I write about a movie on LMW, I want everyone to watch it immediately. While I do believe everyone should watch this movie, I will admit that it may not be for everyone. If you don't like absurd genre parody, this movie is not for you. If you don't like every camp movie trope squashed into one movie AND then either ignored or made fun of of, this movie is not for you. It's weird and while it may seem like a long form improv sketch it's actually completely two guys who are geniuses at improv and sketch comedy. A ton of really great actors are in the movie and most of them weren't famous at the time so it's a great opportunity to see them early in their careers.

With that in mind, let's gather round the campfire and settle in for Wet Hot American Summer.
  • The movie takes place on August 18, 1981 - the last day of camp. I didn't know but people celebrate WHAS day on this date. Maybe next year I'll celebrate too.
  • Every possible camp counselor stereotype is here: the stoner, the slutty girl, the couple who only are a couple at camp, the nerdy guy, the guy that brags about sleeping with all the girls but is actually a virgin, the genuinely nice guy who should get the girl but won't, and the cool guy.
  • If you love Janeane Garofalo than you do need to watch this movie. She's so hilarious and awkward and perfect. There are some moments in this movie when I think to myself, "I'm Beth. Beth is me." Sometimes at work I just randomly say, "You're in trouble" and expect nothing to happen. Just like Beth.
  • Paul Rudd is the literal worst in this movie but you can't help but love him to death and want to date Andy for the exact reasons that Katie is with him. I loved Rudd's description of Andy in "The Ultimate Oral History of Wet Hot American Summer" - "You just try and have fun within those parameters of douchebaggery and bandanna-ism."
  • Remember all of the information about astrophysics provided by David Hyde Pearce throughout the film. It will all be important later.
  • The indoor kids! These are my people! David Hyde Pearce's Henry actually calls them that when he makes his way back to camp to teach them about science and stuff. And save the day.
  • OMG Christopher Meloni! Imagine if you will a character that is the complete opposite of his character on SVU. He says the most bizarre things ("I'm going to go fondle my sweaters.") and has an epic monologue towards the end of the movie about being proud of who you are. Gene has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
  • "We're soul mates right?" Yes, Katie, you're camp soul mates.
  • Let's talk about Coop aka Michael Showalter. Showalter wrote the movie with director David Wain. He plays Coop, the camper turned counselor who is in love with Katie (unrequited of course). He also plays the Catskills comic at the talent show. He's so goofy and endearing. And weird. And inappropriate. I think this photo is Coop in a nutshell:
  • Amy Poehler is divine. There are so many priceless Susie moments in this movie: the "Hey you guys" at breakfast to drum up interest in the talent show, her pan-pipe playing at the commitment ceremony, and this quote to her drama kids that is perfect: "OK, stop. I feel like I'm watching regional theatre, you guys. God! Am I in the Cleveland Playhouse or something? Your craft is a muscle, you need to exercise it. Take a break; think about what you've done."
  • I had no idea that asking someone if they would like a piece of gum and then both chewing a piece of gum equals that you want to make out. I have been living my life incorrectly.
  • "It's your job to make sure kids don't drown." Camper to Andy after said camper's swimming buddy goes missing.
  • Ken Marino has the greatest hair and the shortest shorts. After you've watched him win this movie so hard, go online and catch up on Burning Love and Party Down. He was even in a Hallmark movie called Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door that isn't terrible.
  • We haven't talked about Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black. I don't want to ruin this particular part of the story for you. I sort of wish Bradley was in the movie more but he's excellent when he is. You should follow Michael Ian Black on Twitter if you like really inappropriate comedy.
  • And then there's Molly Shannon. That is all.
  • When Katie breaks Coop's heart, he and Gene and the other counselor that works in the kitchen go through an epic training so that Coop can be the best Coop he can be montage complete with inspirational music and dancing. You can watch it here. The hawk sound effect is my favorite part.
  •  Of course the talent show goes on as the camp is threatened with total obliteration by remnants of Skylab on its way into the Earth's atmosphere. The drama kids give a rousing performance of "Day by Day" (of course), the robot kid performs his talent, Coop sort of wins Katie over, and the indoor kids "save" the day with a plot that involves a twenty-sided D&D die. You know, exactly like that one time at camp.
With tearful goodbyes, campers and counselors leave Camp Firewood to return to Bethesda or New Jersey until next summer. Maybe in ten years they'll find themselves back at Camp Firewood at 9:30 (even though we said 9 and we should be on time). Maybe they'll find themselves on Netflix. Wherever they end up, you know it's going to be weird.

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