Theater Camp

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Theater Camp
dir Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman
scr Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt
prd Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Maria Zuckerman
with Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Caroline Aaron, Amy Sedaris, Kyndra Sanchez, Alan Kim
release US 14.Jul.23,
UK 25.Aug.23
23/US Searchlight 1h32

galvin edebiri sedaris
sundance london film fest

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gordon and pratt direct the kids
In the style of a Christopher Guest mock-doc, this hilarious comedy deploys a knowing improvisational style to explore a group of theatre nerds who gather at summer camp to celebrate their love of drama, music and dance. The hilarious dialog and impassioned performances are packed with gags that will keep arts lovers giggling from start to finish. And there are plenty of broader jokes for everyone else.
When founder Joan (Sedaris) of Camp AdirondActs falls ill, her dude-bro son Troy (Tatro) steps in to run the summer season with returning staff: manager Rita (Aaron), drama director Amos (Platt) and his music director best pal Rebecca-Diane (Gordon), stage manager Glenn (Galvin), dance teacher Clive (Graham) and costume guru Gigi (Thiele). To save money, Troy also hires Janet (Edebiri), whose resume claims that she can replace teachers of several other disciplines. And the kids dive into classes, preparing for Amos and Rebecca-Diane's annual musical. But financial shark Caroline (Harrison) is banking on their failure.
Each scene is peppered with offhanded jokes that poke fun at this fabulously over-dramatic subculture. References ping in every direction, drawing wry smiles and big laughs. And several characters emerge with memorable quirks. Troy is particularly funny as the relentlessly laddish guy who hasn't a clue what theatre means to these kids. He's naturally susceptible to Caroline's flirtation. Meanwhile, the close bond between Amos and Rebecca-Diane is strained by diverging interests. And the dark horse Glenn emerges to steal the show.

Even if characters seem like caricatures, the engaging ensemble plays them with an earthy charm. Their offhanded dialog allows each person to emerge distinctly. Tatro gets the silliest role and runs with it, while Edebiri has fun as a blagger trying to teach things like accents and stage combat. Several of the kids get their moments to shine as well, including Sanchez as a star actress and Kim as a very young wannabe agent.

While the plot isn't particularly original, involving money problems and a corporate predator, it's the stage-based comedy premise that keeps the film buoyantly entertaining. And because Amos and Rebecca-Diane's complex friendship is at the centre, there's also a satisfying emotional kick that accompanies their story thread. But of course, the most memorable thing here is the homage musical they compose, Joan, Still, with its show-stopping numbers performed by talented kids. It makes us all want to go back to camp.

cert 12 themes, language 21.Aug.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall