The raunchy teen comedy has had its ebbs and flows over the years, with its heyday being the mid-’80s and late-’90s. As a society we’ve sort of moved beyond that to movies about adults acting like teenagers because of arrested adolescence. But, evidently nobody told Saturday Night Live head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost that the teen comedy is dead because he’s written and produced, under the executive production of Lorne Michaels, a raunchy teen summer comedy entitled Staten Island Summer. If you’d naively hoped, as I did, that Jost might bring something fresh to the sub-genre, then we’re both sorely mistaken.
Directed by SNL producer and segment director Rhys Thomas, Staten Island Summer is Jost’s attempt to, apparently, fictionalize and comedicize (not a word) his last summer before going off to college. He went to Harvard, by the way, which the movie mentions about 30 times. His on-screen alter ego is Danny Campbell, played by The Good Wife‘s Graham Phillips. Danny is from Staten Island, despite his lack of any discernible accent, and is spending his last summer in town as a lifeguard at the municipal pool along with his best friend Frank (Zack Pearlman), an obnoxious dork who only wants to get laid and knows he’ll never leave his parents’ basement.
Also populating the lifeguardly duties are Mary Ellen (Cecily Strong) who is “basically a guy” because she grew up with brothers; Anthony (John DeLuca), the typical Staten Island douche with a nice physique and an inability to construct sentences; and Skootch (Bobby Moynihan), a man who has been a lifeguard for his entire adult life, mostly because it’s easy and he can smoke weed. They’re under the all-too-watchful eye of Chuck (Mike O’Brien), the former lifeguard turned manager who walks around the entire movie in nothing but a speedo and sandals, sporting a killer ‘stache. Chuck will stop at nothing to make sure the annual “staff party” that the lifeguards throw behind his back doesn’t happen.
And, as if that weren’t enough plot, we also have a bunch of hot girls, because this is ostensibly a raunchy teen sex comedy after all. The object of Danny’s obsession is the object of everyone‘s obsession, Krystal Manicucci (Ashley Greene), known as “The Queen of Staten Island”, just so happened to babysit Danny when he was a kid and has a psychotic, paranoid mafioso father (Vincent Pastore). There are also a pair of identical twins (Kellie Cockrell and Katie Cockrell) and Frank wants to get with “the hot one” but hates the other one for comedy purposes.
And that’s not even all of the characters, you guys. There’s also Fred Armisen as the pool’s weird groundskeeper who is trying to get rid of a wasps nest, as well as Jim Gaffigan and Kate Walsh play Danny’s Disney World-obsessed parents. There are just too many things going on in the movie—like Jost decided to throw as many cliched tropes of the genre at the wall at once to see if they’d stick, and very few of them do. Jost himself is even in the movie along with his brother playing meathead cops who supply the underage kids with kegs and fireworks.
There are two main problems with Staten Island Summer:
1) It’s attempting to make all of Staten Island relatable to people who’ve never been there by explaining local references instead of just making everything universal. The first few minutes have Danny narrating everything about what Staten Island is all about, who the characters are, what “type” they fit into, and why he (Danny/Colin) never really fit in here. So, like Jost himself, it comes across as very smug.
2) It doesn’t earn the smugness because it’s only funny about 20% of the time. It’s a crime to squander such funny people with underwritten or stereotypical roles. Gaffigan and Moynihan manage to be funny in spite of the material and certainly not because of it.
When the screening of the movie was over, my watching companion said, “That seems like a movie for Netflix.” Turns out, it IS a movie for Netflix, premiering July 30th. That is the only way I’d recommend watching it—in your own home after you’ve determined there’s nothing else to watch and you want some mindless entertainment. Maybe after a long day of work and a big meal you can lie down on the sofa and be mildly bemused while you drift off. It certainly won’t keep you awake through laughter.