We’re a solid month into summer now, so what better time to take stock of some of the best movies that celebrate the warm weather? And to narrow the field a bit, let’s stick to the most upbeat of the genre: the summer comedy. Here are five films guaranteed to make those crazy cottage nights all the more hilarious.
Two guys hanging out in California’s wine country. This sounds like a boring-as-all-get-out documentary, or at the very least the premise of a Tumblr blog nobody reads. Yet as a feature-length film, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. Writer/director Alexander Payne confidently stomps on those comedy grapes and turns them into Oscar-winning wine. Mind you, it helps he’s got Paul Giamatti in the neurotic lead, with the brilliant Thomas Hayden Church holding down the fort as the simple-yet-handsome foil (Mr. Church beat out George Freakin’ Clooney for the role!). The dialogue is sharp, the landscapes are stellar, and the temperature never drops below 23 degrees. Merlot, anyone?
Wet Hot American Summer
Sure the movie flopped when it was released back in 2001. But since then, Wet Hot American Summer has become the go-to cult hit for Gen Xers looking to reminisce about their days at low-rent summer camp. In addition to several members of MTV’s seminal sketch troupe The State, there are plenty of familiar faces — Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler. The premise? It’s the early ’80s, it’s the last day at Camp Firewood, and everyone — especially the counselors — wants to hook up. As someone who did his time at early ’80s summer camp, I can personally attest to this film’s insane authenticity.
Another flick from the 2000s set in that prehistoric era known as the 1980s. And like Wet Hot American Summer, it features a group of disenfranchised youth transitioning into adulthood (whether they’re ready or not, naturally). Replace the low-rent camp setting with a low-end theme park and voila: the perfect venue on which to pin your coming-of-age comedic angst. With the exception of the Bill Hader / Kristen Wiig scenes, Adventureland is a subtler comedy that doesn’t knock you to the ground to go for the gag. But hey, that only adds to the realism. Plus, who’d have thought a Jesse Eisenberg / Kristen Stewart / Ryan Reynolds love triangle could actually, you know, work?
Little Miss Sunshine
It’s a summer road movie. With three generations of family. Making their way across the country to a California beauty pageant. In a VW bus, for gosh’s sake! And with four Academy Award noms (plus two wins), Little Miss Sunshine is obviously more than just a cult film. But as comedies go, it’s small (in a good way), quirky (in a good way), character-driven (in a good way), and freakin’ hilarious (yep, in a good way). Sure, there’s plenty of death, drama, dejection and despair. But the dorky dancing ties it all together, baby. Also, Alan Arkin is genetically incapable of not being hysterical 100% of the time.
Dazed and Confused
Yes, it’s the Richard Linklater film that launched the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, and Ben Affleck. That doesn’t automatically make it funny, mind you. But damn, y’all — it’s funny. The year is 1976, it’s the last day of high school (yep, another coming-of-age period piece!), and shenanigans are afoot. We’re talking hazings, brawls, keg parties, meddling police (a must!), and sought-after concert tickets. Some say it’s a stoner movie. Others claim it’s sheer ’70s nostalgia. I call it the perfect comedy to soak in a balmy June, July, and August. Without it, your summer just ain’t complete, dude.