By Christian Lipski
I was going to do my top five summer camp movies, but as I looked back through history, it seems that summer camp movies are, as a rule, not very good. So with the kind permission of my editor I expanded to include summer movies in general. These are the films that make me feel cool in the desiccating heat of the Pacific Northwest, the ones full of the possibilities of summer.
5. Gidget (1959)
I know, it’s a movie that came out before most of you were born, and long after the rest of you were dead. It’s from the late Fifties, and it stars Sandra Dee as a “girl+midget” experiencing first love and simultaneously bucking the trends in the competitive sexist world of being a surf bum. It’s a classic story, and also features James Darren as Moondoggy the love interest, and Cliff Robertson as Big Kahuna, a Korea vet who bums around the world. It’s sweet, neat, and petite. Key song: “Gidget” twice, by the Four Preps and James Darren.
4. The Endless Summer (1966)
This is technically a documentary, but it’s also truly valuable as a look into surf culture in the mid-60s. Bruce Brown narrates in an engagingly simple fashion as two surfers travel around the world with the summer. All three guys are friendly and fun-loving, and the narration is downright goofy. Surfers talking to surfers. Key song: “Theme from The Endless Summer,” by The Sandals.
3. Dirty Dancing (1987)
Quit laughing, you guys. I have a deep fondness for this movie. It’s sweet in the same way that Gidget is sweet—very simple story, and easy-to-read characters. And Jennifer Grey with her original nose. I didn’t realize that the resort was in the Catskills, and that Baby and her family were Jewish, probably because that aspect was smothered to death by the studio. In any case, it’s another one about growing up and being your own person. Plus: gratuitous Swayze! Key song: Duh. “The Time Of My Life,” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
2. Meatballs (1979)
One of my favorite comedies. Bill Murray in his prime, with a cast of mostly Canadian unknowns. Like most summer camp comedies, there’s an emphasis on hooking up with the opposite sex, but unlike most summer camp movies, there’s no nudity. Other unusual features include the old-school “include a full unknown song in the tender moments” and the fact that there are tender moments as Tripper brings Rudy out of his shell. But let’s not forget Spaz, Fink, and Jerry Aldini. Are you ready for the summer? Key song: Terry Black’s “Moondust!”
1. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Replacing Meatballs as my favorite summer comedy, Wet Hot is a loving send-up of summer camp movies, with the lovesick nerd, the oversexed stud, the outcasts who learn a little about themselves, and all the soft rock you can handle. Thanks to the talents of David Wain, Buck Showalter, and Michael Ian Black, there’s a delicious cruel edge to the humor, but like Meatballs, there’s real affection lurking behind all the jokes. Plus: Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd! Key song: Starship’s “Jane” from the opening credits.