This feature-length adaptation is based on a 2020 short film by directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, as well as co-writers Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, that follows the eccentric staff members of a summer theatre camp. When their beloved founder Joan (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is drafted in to run the failing business, and the teachers must come unite and combine all their courage, talent and experience to make this year’s camp a success.
There are evident hurdles when expanding this concept into a longer movie, not least that the plot is as thin as sugar paper and walking into the cinema you are a little nervous at what might be in store. The mockumentary format adopted works really well for the film, striking the right chord in harmony with the comedic approach, but ultimately the false documentary presentation is completely abandoned, asking questions as to why it was ever implemented in the first place. It isn’t very promising for a film to not truly have established what it wants to be within the first few opening scenes and then continue at a rattling pace.
However, Theater Camp has an absolute bounty of positives working in its favour. All of the writers are close friends and it is abundantly clear that this project is their lovechild that they have wanted to create for a long time. For starters, the movie is incredibly self-aware and the writers harness the real cliches and attitudes that all theatre kids will be able to relate to; this writer certainly did. The camp itself is the physical embodiment of a meme and in any other movie this would be seen as a curtain dropper for the project, but in Theater Camp it all simply works.
The contrast between characters young and old is incredibly entertaining to behold. The children have outrageous personalities and are extraordinarily talented while remaining innocent to a fault, full of hope and dreams. The adults are equally as talented, but completely tragic, crushed by the collapse of their own aspirations, almost begrudging the children because of it. Each scene is infectious with some awful lyrics to songs, cringe-worthy monologues and melodrama oozing out of every corner, making it really difficult not to like this movie and its characters. It would have been nice to see a greater level of development in the younger cast members rather than the self-obsessed adults, but the dynamic works nonetheless.
The comedy does struggle to find its footing. and it is a shame to not see it stick to the mockumentary style that blesses the early scenes, plus removing Sedaris’s character from proceedings so early on can only be a damaging move – but Theater Camp is a pleasant surprise. Saying this movie has a laugh a minute would be doing it a disservice and if you take nothing else away from it, at least you will leave with a smile on your face.
Theater Camp is released nationwide on 25th August 2023.
Watch the trailer for Theater Camp here: