David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer
Nate von Zumwalt, Editorial Coordinator
At some point in the history of leisure there was a grave and universal lapse in judgment—the moment when summertime was declared moviegoing season. Now, it’s not lost on me that summer is an auspicious release time for both big studio and independent films. The kids are out of school and the theater offers respite from the heat—I get it. But personally, I can’t justify being holed up in a theater when there’s a worldwide Vitamin D overdose going on outside. (My condolences to the 95% of Americans currently enduring the wrath of a record-setting heat wave). Surely I occupy a small minority in my aversion to summer moviegoing.
Partialities aside, we’ve curated a short list of our favorite summer/Independence Day/quintessentially American films that have screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
There should be some kind of summer protocol that requires at least one viewing of David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer, an Official Selection of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Wain cleverly incorporates all of the ingredients of a classic summer camp film—all but a genre in itself—while delicately seasoning it with a cast of eccentric characters and heaps of obscure humor. If nothing else, you’ll be treated to a makeout session between Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black. The cast is rife with up-and-comers including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and Bradley Cooper.
Eros love, lustful love, puppy love—they all defer humbly to summer love. Of course, 500 Days of Summer summons a less innocent, more malign version of ‘summer.’ Director Marc Webb’s nod to urban romance casts Sundance vet Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in starkly contrasting — but equally impressive — roles. Beautifully structured and dominated by inventive montage sequences, Webb’s feature tracks the 500 days of a couple’s relationship—or more aptly, the period of Gordon-Levitt’s mostly-unrequited love.
If ever there were a man who could demarcate between the pseudo-heroes of an athlete-obsessed culture and the bona fide heroes who defend our country, it was Pat Tillman. He was both. Immediately following 9/11, Tillman selflessly abandoned his lucrative professional football career for a chance to serve his country. After several tours overseas, Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, sparking a media frenzy fraught with propaganda and misinformation. Director Amir Bar-Lev’s incendiary exposé leads a deep dive into the Pentagon’s cover-up and betrayal of one of their own, and a family bent on revealing the truth.
Danfung Dennis’ gripping documentary tracks the physical and emotional recuperation of a U.S. Marine after narrowly surviving an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. Emerging from a genre laden with war docs, Hell and Back Again finds originality in a narrative that hits extremely close to home and keenly examines the atrocities of war from a humanistic perspective. Dennis crafts a sobering film that juxtaposes the chaos of war with the normality of home, eventually revealing that the line between the two has become indelibly blurred.
Leave it to the man who fashioned one of the most iconic summer films of all-time to help usher in the sweltering heat. Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival accompanied by adamant statements from the director that it is not just another Do the Right Thing. Though the parallels are there: Brooklyn, summer, African-American culture. But rather than a commentary on race-related violence, Red Hook Summer sees a young boy’s cozy Atlanta life displaced when his mother ships him to the Red Hook housing project for the summer, where his preacher grandfather is intent on helping the boy find the Lord.