Janeane Garofalo (Beth)
David Hyde Pierce (Henry)
Michael Showalter (Coop)
Marguerite Moreau (Katie)
Paul Rudd (Andy)
Zak Orth (J.J.)
Christopher Meloni (Gene)
A.D. Miles (Gary)
Molly Shannon (Gail)
Gideon Jacobs (Aaron)
Ken Marino (Victor)
Joe Lo Truglio (Neil)
Michael Ian Black (McKinley)
Liam Norton (Arty)
Amy Poehler (Susie)
Bradley Cooper (Ben)
Marisa Ryan (Abby)
Elizabeth Banks (Lindsay)
Gabriel Millman (Caped Boy)
Kevin Sussman (Steve)
Cassidy Ladden (Mallrat Girl)
Madeline Blue (Cure Girl)
mpaa rating: R
release: July 27, 2001
availability: VHS -
A pitch-perfect parody of your
typical late-'70s/early-'80s teen camp comedy.
Oh, is this
one of those Super Sounds of the '80s nostalgia movies that seem
to be made for the express purpose of having a kitschy soundtrack?
Not really. There are actually
relatively few oldies to be heard -- Theodore Shapiro and Craig
Wedren have composed a scarily exact original score that sounds
just like a crappy '80s score, and just crappy
enough to let you know they're in on the joke -- though the '80s
tunes in evidence, including not one but two Loverboy
songs, are well-judged and well-used. The movie doesn't use its
sound to poke you into false nostalgia.
is pretty much an '80s camp comedy, only more so.
Right. It tips its hat to Meatballs
and its multitude of imitators without really borrowing wholesale
from them; this, as far as I can see (unless I've missed some
impossibly obscure 1981 Z-budget Canadian-tax-shelter comedies
it specifically references), is an original.
It's the last day of camp,
1981 (for some reason, much is made of the fact that this is
a predominantly Jewish camp). Camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo)
flirts dorkily with nearby astrophysics professor Henry (David
Hyde Pierce). Helmet-haired counselor Coop (co-writer Michael
Showalter) nurtures affection for hotsy colleague Katie (Marguerite
Moreau), who's involved with sullen womanizer Andy (Paul Rudd).
Arts-and-crafts counselor Gail (Molly Shannon) weeps over her
failed marriage and is consoled by preternaturally mature camper
Aaron (Gideon Jacobs). Entertainment counselors Susie (Amy Poehler,
a massively quirky talent in full eruption here) and Ben (Bradley
Cooper) try to whip the campers into shape for the talent show.
Victor (Ken Marino) is obsessed with returning from a rafting
trip in time to get it on with Abby (Marisa Ryan). Camp cook
and 'Nam vet Gene (Christopher Meloni) has an intense relationship
with a can of mixed vegetables. Oh, and a piece of Skylab is
threatening to fall right on top of the camp's rec room.
Brilliantly so. It's got its
share of toilet/sex humor, but it also has some wonderfully left-field
stuff. I laughed heartily throughout.
Andy's yeah-whatever approach
to lifeguarding. The way David Hyde Pierce -- a true hero of
subtle dry comedy -- delivers a single word, "dinner."
(It's hilarious in context. I about peed laughing.) Everything
Chris Meloni (better known to some as the duplicitous, love-struck
con Keller on HBO's Oz) does, especially the New Way montage.
The Crate and Barrel gag. Janeane Garofalo with moussed hair.
The "White people be funny" kid in the talent show.
Lines -- the script is full of them -- like "You taste like
a burger. I don't like you any more." The debauched montage
in town. The big, trite softball championship scene. Truth is,
the movie is on wheels right from the uncannily accurate opening
so sharp and funny, why didn't it get a wider release?
Good question. It wasn't given
nearly enough of a push by its distributor, USA Films, and the
mostly uncomprehending reviews (especially Roger Ebert's annoying
non-review) didn't help. It wasn't as
straightforward as, say, American Pie 2. The '80s nostalgia
thing had been tapped out not long after The Wedding Singer,
and the poster art made it look too much like Detroit
Rock City (another worthwhile retro comedy audiences
stayed away from in droves). This was always more or less destined
to be a cult comedy, passed along enthusiastically on video/DVD.
(And the DVD has some cool extras -- the "Behind the Scenes"
featurette is worth a spin just for the actors' off-the-cuff
in-character synopses of their lives ten years later. Paul Rudd's
is especially funny.)
So it was
basically too smart for the mainstream room?
Yeah. It's subversive; it doesn't
take the expected beats (either that or it satirically turns
them on their heads -- see the final conversation between Coop
and Katie, a most unconventional note for a comedy to
end on), it cheerfully approves of same-sex love (it deftly feints
towards homophobia only to turn that on its head), and
it teases the boys in the audience with cheesecake but never
stoops to full nudity. This is a wildly funny essay on the comedies
I, and maybe you, grew up with on cable in the early '80s. It
also works admirably as a comedy in its own right -- it's not
a "you had to be there" scrapbook, though the appearance
of only-in-the-'80s toys like Merlin will keep Gen-Xers happily
chortling. It doesn't overdose on pop-culture references, either
-- none of the young campers talk about Raiders of the Lost
Ark, which was pretty much the movie to see that summer
among kids of that age (including me, back there in '81).
movie's weirdest touch?
The talent show's MC, Alan
Shemper, who's brought on as if he were some half-forgotten real-life
TV personality (like, say, Charles Nelson Reilly) we should recognize.
And if you ransack your memory looking for childhood afternoons
spent in front of the tube watching Alan Shemper, you'll go nuts.
In fact, he's Michael Showalter in a disguise good enough to
make you pause for a second -- "Is that a real comedian
from the '70s and '80s? Should I know him?" But since that
is exactly the spot where a lesser movie would
insert a surprise "Oh yeah, I remember that guy!" cameo,
it just makes the comedy that much stranger...