Cult Classics: Wet Hot American Summer

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In May of 2000, David Wain spent 28 days at Camp Towanda filming a teen-summer camp comedy, based off of a script written by himself and Michael Showalter.
Here are some facts about their little comedy movie:

  • For 23 of the 28 days, it rained.
  • It was shot on a budget of $1.8 million.
  • It had a box office gross of $295, 206.
  • Esteemed film critic Roger Ebert described the film by saying “Wow I hate it something fierce”.
  • Ebert rated it 1 star.
  • Paul Rudd isn’t sure that he was ever paid for the movie.

So how has this 32%-rated-on-Rotten Tomatoes, Paul Rudd-Bradley Cooper-Amy Poehler-Molly Shannon-Elizabeth Banks-starring, Wilhelm scream-featuring, nonsensical, absurdist, bizarre, slapdash comedy scored itself an acclaimed Netflix prequel show and an upcoming sequel show? But then again, has anything about Wet Hot American Summer ever made logical sense?

Arguably the quintessential cult comedy of the 2000s, Wain’s bizarre little baby is an unintentional masterclass in the art of achieving cult status. Wain and Showalter set out to make a movie spoofing the popular teen movies which featured lots of characters and took place over the course of a day (ala Dazed & Confused) and the rising popularity of the raunchy teen-sex comedy genre (American Pie). In the process, they created something that makes no sense, has no coherency, features tangential and erratic subplots, meandering and motivation-less characters and, ultimately, the definition of acquired taste; you’re either so in on Wet Hot American Summer, or you’re so not.

But why are so many people in on Wet Hot American Summer? There are a number of reasons. The cast is perhaps the most striking example: there are several A-listers involved in definitive ‘before they were famous’ roles; Rudd, Cooper and Poehler all took off and featured in significant mainstream releases in the years following, but Wet Hot American Summer is what made them. As great as the cast are, the material they have is as committed to the insanity as they are. Whilst the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer spoof movies of the 2000s relied on jokes made up of “Blah blah blah, look it’s Lindsay Lohan! Blah blah blah, and she’s in Hogwarts!” Wet Hot has actual jokes with punchlines, physical gags and blink and you’ll miss ’em Airplane! style humour. There are no half-hearted attitudes, you’ve gotta give it your all to succeed or you go down with the ship, and Wet Hot American Summer is full of dedication either way you perceive the outcome. It’s highly quotable (“Well guys, we’ve made it to the end of the summer in one piece, except for a few campers who are lepers”, “I’m gonna go fondle my sweaters”, “Don’t tell me, don’t even tell me you have crabs!/No… Yes, but that’s not the point”), the characters are strangely endearing and it features a couple of the best montage scenes in recent comedy; Wet Hot American Summer is the stuff cult classics are made of.

For existing fans, you’ll know just how special Wet Hot American Summer is in its own way. For the uninitiated looking to take the risky plunge, welcome to the chaotic world that is Wet Hot American Summer.

Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later will be available to stream on Netflix from August 4th. Watch the original trailer for the film below:

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The Edge's Film Editor 2017-2018, David has an unabashed love for all things Dave Grohl, Jack Black and Lord of the Rings. A compulsive liar who shouldn't be trusted, David once beat legendary actor David Hasselhoff in a hot dog eating contest and is best friends with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, they speak on the phone three times a week.

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