Feature: Summer Camp Films
Mon, 01 Jun 2009 14:35:10
Michael Showalter Videos
For the kid in all of us, the summer camp film has served as an ode to our American youth as well as a gentle reminder of the simpler—and goofier—times of childhood. We all have our guilty (even shaming) pleasures when it comes to this genre, but I’d like to think mine are at least adequate enough. Take a look and judge for yourself.
Although somewhat formulaic in plot, Todd Graff’s Camp manages to provide an intimate glimpse into the world of the performing arts while still upholding the usual coming-of-age motifs we’ve come to expect from summer camp fare. Showcasing musical hits like Stephen Sondheim’s "Company," Camp appeals to both Broadway diehards and reminiscing adults alike. The characters and situations might be familiar—from the nerdy, “ugly” girl to unattainable, maybe-gay musician—but the lively satiric humor and musical prowess prove swimmingly operatic. As an intentional cinematic pun, Graff’s testament to musical theater and long summer days is vigorously packed full of campy fun.
Wet Hot American Summer
As pure, unadulterated spoof, David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer takes on the iconic Meatballs films, reconfigures them in ridiculously comedic fashion, and spits out something far more ludicrous and deranged than one could ever imagine. Lampooning everything from the coming-of-age tale to the end-of-the-year talent competition, this summer camp reimagining never runs out of laughs, drolly featuring every comedian in the business, from Janeane Garofalo to Michael Ian Black. Not far after the release, American Summer quickly established itself as a cult phenomenon—mainly because it’s so damn funny—and, plainly, just out there: The counselor drug-run is a classic example of how far these comic players are willing to go in order to absurdly bend summer camp film rules.
The Parent Trap (1961 and 1998)
Squarely pegged as wholesome entertainment, The Parent Trap films exuberantly present the sleep-away-camp experience with the added twist of sibling rivalry. Separated-at-birth twins may seem like a played-out soap opera cliché, but both versions of the beloved Disney tale display buoyant cat-and-mouse acrobatics, establishing a playful premise that fully reaches its modest goals. The fun is had when two (unknowing) sisters—one Californian, the other British—prank each other in the most outrageous, scheming ways. Well, until they solve the suspicious query of why they look exactly the same. This of-its-time farce translates well to the modern rendering. I, for one, prefer the regal Hayley Mills to Ms. Lohan, but either way, these films prove one whirly, rambunctious outing.
Addams Family Values
A ghoulish, macabre family television show may not instantly bring to mind cheery, youth-filled days at camp, but the cinematic sequel, Addams Family Values, pulls apart the American past time with riotous bite. The great supporting cast of characters—Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol play devilishly chipper camp counselors—clearly represent the type of people we have come to expect at a run-of-the-mill campsite. Yes, one could sneer at this inclusion into the summer camp genre, but the adolescent mischievousness and havoc performed by Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley Addams (Jimmy Workman) on the Camp Chippewa campers is bloody good amusement. In deliciously and humorously dark fashion, one memorable scene in particular finds the Addams brood causing mutiny upon the camp production of a Thanksgiving-themed play, ultimately scalping and roasting the other campers with playful winks at the camera. Addams Family Values may not be the most sincere depiction of the camp-going experience, but it firmly qualifies as the great exception to the genre norm.
Anchored by the beer-guzzling, zany Bill Murray as lead counselor Tripper Harrison, Ivan Reitman’s seminal summer camp film Meatballs paints a madcap portrait of going away to summer camp. The quintessential yet dated Meatballs paved the path for goofball summer camp films to follow (see above), creating the framework of now-cliché story arcs as well as outlining character archetypes, from the horned-up, socially awkward nerd to the bikini-clad blonde counselor. Thinly sketched characters may prove the biggest flaw in this typically-‘80s (yeah, I know it came out in 1979) comedy, but Meatballs surely remains an enjoyable reminder of how sweet summer camp once was.