A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wet Hot American Summer is a 2001 parody of early 1980s summertime coming-of-age teen flicks and, as such, contains frequent references to teen characters wanting to have sex. Two male characters are shown sneaking off into a supply shed to have sex; they're shown nude from the waist up, kissing and holding each other close. During a montage in which the camp counselors go to town for supplies, the counselors are shown smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, smoking pot, buying cocaine, and shooting up heroin in a rundown drug house. Profanity is frequently employed (especially "f--k"), and, although the movie is one of the funniest movies released in recent history, the profanity and overall mature content make this film most appropriate for older teens and up. Still, for all its awareness of the form it's parodying, it's unafraid to celebrate those who are "different," even going so far as to have a gay marriage between two of the lead male characters and everyone in camp celebrating the milestone.
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What's the story?
It's August 8, 1981, the last day at Camp Firewood, and everyone is trying for one last shot at love or sex before he or she has to go back home. This even includes Beth (Janeane Garofalo), who is in charge of Camp Firewood. She meets and falls in love with local astrophysics professor Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce). As the camp counselors, as well as the campers, fall in and out of love while engaging in the final day of camp activities, Newman discovers that a piece of the NASA space station Skylab is falling from the sky straight toward Camp Firewood, and it's up to him and the "inside kids" -- those who would rather play Dungeons & Dragons than engage in outdoor camping activities -- to come up with a machine to stop this from happening while everyone's watching the talent show.
Is it any good?
Although it's one of the funniest comedies of the last 20 years, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER is best for older teens and adults due to the frequency of profanity, sexual references, and raunchy humor. This in no way diminishes the brilliance of this parody of early 1980s teenager coming-of-age movies, and, in fact, if this movie lacked profanity, sexual references, and raunchy humor, it wouldn't be much of a parody of those types of movies.
The awareness of the form is pitch-perfect, as is the fearlessness in turning the form on its ear -- such as when the camp has a marriage ceremony for two gay male characters and celebrates their love, instead of what would have transpired in the less tolerant movies of the early 1980s. Everyone from Paul Rudd to Christopher Meloni, Janeane Garofalo to Michael Showalter, and Michael Ian Black turns in incredibly hilarious performances. Wet Hot American Summer belongs in the rarest of comedy movies that you can watch literally dozens of times and always find something new to laugh at. Just watch it once the kids are in bed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about films that parody specific genres. As a movie parodying movies such as Meatballs and other summertime coming-of-age movies from the early 1980s, what styles do the filmmakers employ with the scenes and the characters to create comedy?
Where does the movie break from the form it's parodying?
Why do you think there was so much profanity and so many references to sex? Do you think it was necessary to parody the original movies, or did this seem gratuitous?
- In theaters: January 19, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: August 13, 2002
- Cast: Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter
- Director: David Wain
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Strong sexual content, language and a drug sequence.
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