BINGE-R #68: Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later + Weekend Movies
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: TEN YEARS LATER
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Absurdity runs deep and dings true in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. A sequel to the 2105 Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp that was itself an unexpected prequel to the 2001 cult film set at a Maine summer camp, David Wain and Michael Showalter’s series is a blast of earnestly bright-eyed humour that plays weirder the straighter it comes across. “Now let’s switch to your storyline, Susie,” notes a character in the second episode, and the mechanics of storytelling are just one of many processes opened up for irreverent inspection. For the record, Susie’s storyline – she’s an aspiring Hollywood producer wearing Madonna’s “Lucky Star” wardrobe and played by Amy Poehler – is endearingly daft.
Behind the exaggerated performances and bursts of wordplay, the show sends up its own chronology. The film and First Day of Camp were set in 1981, with the reunion of Ten Years Later occurring in a 1991 that draws on the era’s now obvious cliches: bad boy Andy (Paul Rudd) is now a dead ringer for Matt Dillon’s grunge dude from Singles as the former teenage camp counsellors are now 26-year-olds dealing with… 26-year-old stuff. These young adults are conceived as if they were written by the character’s teenage versions of themselves – they’re overgrown children pretending to be adults, played by cast members who are now in their forties and doing nothing to hide their chronic miscasting.
It pays tribute to vintage comedies such as Meatballs, but has a strait-laced air that harks back to respectable 1960s teen flicks while adding ever more nutty conspiracy subplots; the camp’s great nemesis is a nuke-wielding Ronald Reagan (Showalter). The film’s mostly unknown cast of Poehler, Rudd, Ken Marino, and Bradley Cooper (absent here, with Adam Scott stepping in) subsequently found fame, and they send themselves up here with support from newcomers such as Alyssa Milano and Australian actor Jai Courtney, who plays a British actor dating Susie named Garth McArthur. Does it make sense? Not always. Is it often funny? Yes. Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is a loopy, ludicrous weekend away.
If you want a warmly wired romantic comedy…
The Incredible Jessica James (Netflix, 2017, 83 minutes): The comic actor and former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams gives such a vibrant, emotionally acute performance at the centre of this romantic comedy about a struggling Brooklyn playwright that the film’s formulaic structure barely registers. Her Jessica James is going through a “weird transitional phase” after splitting up with Damon (Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield), but instead of moping she discovers pleasure in her job, introducing kids to the theatre, and shoots down self-doubt with a rat-a-tat commentary and biting humour. Writer/director James C. Strouse (People Places Things) has created a character that’s a showcase for Williams, who dances up a storm (a great quality in an actor) and engages with a sometimes wayward divorcee named Boone (Chris O’Dowd, nicely tamped down). The quick transitions and refusal to narrow Jessica to a single trait only accentuates the pleasure.
If you’re after a meditation on commerce and/or Channing Tatum’s abs…
Magic Mike (Stan, 2012, 111 minutes): Pleasure is fleeting and business is everything in Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively astute drama about the top drawcard at a Florida male strip club who’s starting to wonder about his prospects. Tiring of his charmingly rapacious boss Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Channing Tatum’s Mike wants a new life, but as women so often experience he’s held down by circumstances imposed by the opposite gender. Mike’s judged on his looks and knocked back when he tries to step outside his lane, left to preen onstage and teach the trade – in a variation on A Star is Born – to his callow protégé, Adam (Alex Pettyfer). Soderbergh shoots the barely dressed performances with aplomb, with the backbeat topped by the female audience’s screaming pleasure so that you can barely hear the clock ticking or the cash register ring.
If you prefer a high school film noir…
Brick (SBS on Demand, 2005, 105 minutes): Before Looper and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, American filmmaker Rian Johnson relocated the hardboiled film noir detective from the mean streets of the 1940s to a modern Californian high school staffed by hard-nosed teenage hoods, femme fatales, and sundry grifters. Speaking like the offcuts from a Raymond Chandler novel, the characters coalesce around Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a weary, grieving adolescent trying to track down the truth behind the death of his former girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). Johnson accentuates the culture clash with vintage criminal argot and assured framing. Like many first films, it’s more clever than conclusive, but it makes the most of Gordon-Levitt’s malleability and should satisfy fans coming from either side of its genre equation.
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