Picture it: Camp Firewood, 1981. The last day of camp. Everyone is having fun and making the most of their time. Everyone is looking for one last hookup, one last chance to go home with a good story. Wet Hot American Summer paints a great picture of horny teenagers looking for love and adventure on a really long, really eventful day, ranging from the love-lorn Coop (Michael Showalter) to the macho Victor (Ken Marino). Writers David Wain and Michael Showalter produced a nostalgic, irreverent script that elicits laughs and emotion, but where it really sings is its take on female sexuality. Ladies and gents, we’re bringing out the big guns and taking a look at Marisa Ryan’s indominable Abby Bernstein.
The first time we see Abby, she’s a huge innuendo without dialogue. She’s suggestively tonguing a spoon in the mess hall while making eyes at Victor, who drops his plate looking at her. I’ll be honest: I thought she was going to be a silent sex kitten type, one that simply winks, takes off her top and puts out without nary a line. So imagine the great surprise here when Abby approaches Victor, offers him a piece of gum, and tells him, “It sucks dick that we never got to know each other.” A common phrase, but a loaded one, as it plants the idea further in Victor’s head (see what I did there?) of sexual contact. She gropes him and offers sex before he sets out on a rafting trip, inspiring the kid to take some drastic measures.
Here’s the genius part: in a moment of realistic role reversal, Victor is a virgin that’s all talk and no game while Abby is the suave, sexually initiated party. He is so desperate to get back to lose his virginity that he abandons his charges, inspiring a few melodramatic chases and the endangerment of a group of children. And for what? By the time he gets to her, Abby’s already made out with Gary (A.D. Miles) and is currently sucking face with a pre-teen boy. She’s not even done at that point, as she manages to passionately make out with Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) at the talent show but a short while later. The best part is that she has to ask Victor if she knows him, while he has been running toward her in a state of disarray, shouting about how much he’s been through to try to get to her. He refers to her as “my love” throughout the movie, idealizing this encounter as something a bit more romantic than he expected. Sex with her means a lot more to Victor than it does to Abby: she’s his “only hope”, and he views her as the only game in town. Abby, on the other hand, has options: she’s beautiful, confident, and direct. Finding a partner isn’t hard for her; for Victor, though, he has to invent stories of conquests and then loses it when his chance to have sex is placed into jeoparody.
Normally, we get to see the girl chasing the guy all summer, making herself over in order to conform to what he finds more appealing, but Abby is different to a refreshing degree. In fact, Abby has so few fucks to give in the caring department, I doubt that I would have to use more than one hand to count them. Guys come to her, not the other way around. There’s the ritual chewing of gum, then the makeout session. We never really see her have sex, but it’s implied. She doesn’t have to change to attract someone, and interestingly enough, no one attempts to shame her. Not once does someone scream, “SLUT!” like they would in any other movie. She doesn’t wind up tragically pregnant, needing a back alley abortion. No one subjects her to violence or coersion. She has friends, too, which means that there’s no campaign to make her an outcast. Abby’s the one in charge, and she’s allowed to own her sexuality. She can suck face with as many people as she wants and no one is going to say a damn thing.
We need more of this in the movies, people. No one should bat an eye at a woman that wants to have sex. It doesn’t have to be some beautiful love story that produces a wedding and three adorable blonde moppets at the end; this isn’t what we should be feeding girls and women. It doesn’t have to be a horrible warning over the dangers of underage sex. In the real world, you get to sleep with who you want, and you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone because it’s no one else’s business. Wet Hot American Summer presents something amazing in this respect: a complete lack of judgment towards its women. Hell, we shade Katie (Marguerite Moreau) and her poor love triangle with Andy (Paul Rudd) and Coop far more than we side-eye Abby (sidenote: even Coop behaves in a far more sentimental fashion than most guys are afforded, which is an interesting shift to note). Abby’s just being herself; Katie needs to get her shit together. It’s incredible that as an audience, we don’t really care. We smile at Victor making a fool of himself; we don’t once throw shade at Abby for being herself.
If this is the kind of treatment Wain and Showalter give women, we need to have more people looking to these two guys for how to write female roles. Because after all, no one should have to apologize for their sexual actions. Especially not a girl who knows herself.