After spotting her on a recent repeat of the music-based panel quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks (where, as per usual, the cool American guest was almost entirely ignored by the host, in favour of some random native nonentity), I found myself jonesing for some more Janeane Garofalo. Sadly I can’t afford the complete Larry Sanders boxset, so instead I had to make do with a dirt-cheap, double-sided DVD of The Independent (2000) and Wet Hot American Summer (2001). That was 99p well spent, I’m sure you’ll agree!
The Independent is a “mockumentary”, starring Jerry Stiller as an infamous indie auteur named ‘Morty Fineman’, who has supposedly made over four-hundred flicks! The hilarious fake titles are all listed at the end of the movie, running alongside the credits, and some kind soul has added them to the Wikipedia page, so I highly recommend you have a read. Fineman is definitely a filmmaker after my own heart, as he tries to communicate serious socio-political messages via the medium of trashy B-Movies (complete with incidental T&A)… and I can’t help wishing that I lived in an alternative reality where something like The Eco Angels (1971) was actually green-lit, instead of yet another Spiderman reboot! Plot-wise The Independent is a bit of a shaggy dog, but I found it quite entertaining… and Garofalo gets some funny scenes as Morty’s long-suffering daughter, ‘Paloma’, so it did scratch the itch a little. I still can’t quite figure out how they managed to grab such an eclectic cast of cameo players though… I mean, where else can you see Ron Howard, John Lydon, Ben Stiller, Fred Williamson, Karen Black, Nick Cassavetes, Jennifer Elise Cox and Brian Posehn (metaphorically) rubbing shoulders together?
As it happens, Wet Hot American Summer also boasts an impressively overqualified cast. Garofalo stars as ‘Beth’, the director of a children’s summer camp, who develops an adorably dorky crush on ‘Henry’, an associate professor of astrophysics, played by David Hyde Pierce (who happens to be staying at the camp for no apparent reason). Not only does she get some very funny scenes with him and the rest of the cast, but she also spends the majority of the flick rocking a super-cute hippie-chick look that set my heart aflutter! Meanwhile, a gawky counsellor named ‘Coop’ (Michael Showalter) struggles to steal the girl of his dreams (Marguerite Moreau) away from her hilariously petulant pretty-boy beau (Paul Rudd)… who is blatantly cheating on her with a random hottie (Elizabeth Banks), when he should really be stopping the younger kids from drowning. Coop is aided in his quest by the camp’s chef, a shell-shocked Vietnam War veteran played by Christopher Meloni, who also happens to be an inspirational dance instructor in his spare time! On top of all that rom-com tomfoolery, you get Molly Shannon as a depressed art teacher, Judah Friedlander as her arrogant ex, Michael Ian Black as a virgin counsellor with a marked lack of interest in women, and Amy Poehler as an insanely demanding “stage mother” type, who treats the camp’s talent show like the D-Day landings. Phew!
Overall, WHAS is fairly uneven. It’s deliberately pitched as an absurd parody, so a lot of the jokes involve mocking clichéd story conventions… which consequently leads to a deliberate inconsistency between scenes, and derails any hope of an emotional or comedic arc. That said, if you view it more as a series of sketches with recurring characters and locations, then it has a pretty high hit ratio… and there are enough genuinely hilarious high points to keep you hanging in there through the less successful bits. Although I’m quite happy with the edition I have for now, I do find myself coveting the R1 release, which apparently has a commentary track (featuring Garofalo herself) and several deleted scenes on it. Gah!
Ooh, and if you’re WHAS fan, you have to check out this awesome cartoon of all the main characters, drawn by Glen Brogan!