Cabin Fever: Wet Hot American Summer, the First Day of Camp reviewed
Wet Hot American Summer is a movie that people either tend to love or hate. The movie bombed when it came out in 2001, earning less than 300K on a nearly 2 million dollar budget. Roger Ebert hated it but did pen a review that can be song to the tune of Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.
The movie did have brilliant luck to be “Before they were stars” turns for Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, and Bradley Cooper. The movie is also one of the few places that knew how work with David Hyde Pierce besides Frasier and the Simpsons.
Why did Wet Hot American Summer bomb? People seem to hate the year 1981. The movie was unrepentantly Jewish enough to play Jewish geography with pride. This is probably alienating for the 96-97 percent of Americans who are not Jewish and/or don’t grow up in heavily Jewish areas. My anecdotal experience is that summer camp is generally a very Jewish and also Northeastern United States thing to send your kids to anyway.
The movie was probably ahead of its time and became the forerunner of today’s absurdist and cringe-awkward humor. The original movie takes place entirely on the last day of camp and time tends to work very weirdly. One inspired joke in the original movie had the counselors turn into heroin junkies and thieves during a one-hour excursion into town.
Wet Hot developed enough of a cult following that Netflix decided to produce an 8-episode season called Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. The series is largely a success. The original cast returns. Originally they were in their 20s and 30s playing teenagers, now they are in their mid-40s and 50s and playing teenagers. This joke is committed to with absolute faith whether the actors largely look the same as their younger selves (Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler) or look really middle-aged (Mike Showalter who also co-wrote and directed). The Netflix series also remains devoted to being unrepentantly Jewish (complete with more Jewish geography and the fact that 99 percent of Camp Firewood has Jewish names). The same time absurdity also exists. In one day, hearts are broken and mended, friends are made, full musicals are produced, and what is with that neon-green sludge being dumped close by and the sneering popped collars from WASPy Camp Tigerclaw?
So if you can stand a good dose of Jewish geography and 1981 doesn’t produce Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I say go check out Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. There are also some really inspired cameos and guest performances. Let’s just say that this is the best use of the cast from Mad Men since Mad Men.