Attention Campers: Our Review of ‘Theater Camp’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 21, 2023
Attention Campers: Our Review of ‘Theater Camp’

Adapting their own 2020 short film of the same name, first-time feature film directors Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon team up again with writing collaborators Noah Galvin and Ben Platt to deliver Theater Camp to cinemas this weekend. With a limited release that expands in a couple of weeks, the quirky little comedy that won over fans at its world premiere this past winter at the Sundance Film Festival looks to compete at the box office with a slow-building word-of-mouth approach.

When the founder and matriarch of the ‘Adirond ACTS’ summer camp, Joan Rubinsky (Any Sedaris), falls into a coma after suffering a seizure, it’s up to her son, self-proclaimed social media business mogul Troy (Jimmy Tatro) to take over and keep the camp afloat. Troy is a typical ‘insta-bro’ and immediately falls flat trying to establish a relationship with the passionate and artistic group of kids who descend on the camp for the season. The staff is even less welcoming as long-time senior instructors Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Dianne (Molly Gordon) are too completely self-absorbed in their own dramas to see what’s really going on with the camp and Troy’s attempts to keep the doors open. Stuck in the middle of all of this is the often-neglected and overlooked everyman Glenn (Noah Galvin). He may be the only one out of the camp employees who knows how dire the situation is, with Bank representative Caroline (Patti Harrison) sniffing around trying to buy out the land.

Part Fame, part Meatballs, Theater Camp’s greatest influences though are Christopher Guest’s films that use heavy improvisation. Theater Camp may not share the subject matter of Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, but all the films certainly share a similar sense of energy and collaboration. Having the 4 writers of the film in the lead roles in front of and behind the camera certainly helps this process. But the directors here do a great job in highlighting a lot of the supporting roles to boot, especially with some of the kids inhabiting the camp.

The kids are fantastic and unfiltered, with one joke of a male camper Devon (Donovan Colan) coming out as straight to his 2 gay fathers after other campers ‘shockingly’ discover him playing football one nightthat the film siuccesfully handles for big laughs. Other standouts amongst the kids include Kyndra Sanchez’s Darla, as the other kids discriminate against her for actually being a young child star, and Alan Kim’s wannabe talent agent who steals most of the scenes he’s in. Bailee Bonick’s Mackenzie is a delight and Luke Islam is a true force of nature, dominating the screen with his performance.

There isn’t much to the story or the direction here, but this isn’t the type of film that needs that anyway. Gordon and Lieberman do an admirable job of organizing the chaos of what looks like a frantic film set and delivering a film that is way funnier than most will anticipate. Platt’s self-obsessed and oblivious Amos is at times hilarious and other times overbearing, but 100% a person that anyone involved with the arts will recognize immediately. In fact, that’s one of the film’s greatest strengths, in that these characters may be stereotypes that artistic folk will resonate with, but the script develop and treat them as characters that are more than just stereotypes. That creates a rich tapestry of characters that the cast gets to play with.

Theater Camp also manages to be damn funny, and in ways that will appeal to all audiences, not just the artistic types the film directly relates to. And it’s that ability to elicit laughs from everyone that could set it up to be a cult classic along the lines of another famed camp film, Wet Hot American Summer, in the years to come. It’s certainly off to a great start.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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