Synopsis: The eccentric staff of a rundown theater camp in upstate New York must band with the beloved founder’s bro-y son to keep the camp afloat.
Stars: Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Caroline Aaron, Amy Sedaris
Directors: Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: The last time I was scheduled to go to summer camp, I ran into the bathroom of the YMCA we were departing from and locked myself in, refusing to come out until the buses were forced to leave without me. My parents were, understandably, apoplectic, and looking back on it now, I don’t know why I wouldn’t have leaped at the chance to get out of the city and enjoy the time away. I mean, I understand why I flipped out at the time. I’d already gone the previous summer and hated it. Picture it: I was an only child, a theater nerd, “sensitive,” hadn’t had my first sleepover, and generally wasn’t used to being around so much uncontained testosterone in one deodorant-free cabin.
In the following years, my obsession with camp blossomed as if I were the poster child for the sleepaway experience. I sought out each TV show, movie, book, article, you name it because though it never turned out to be part of my adolescence, I lived vicariously through these fictional characters that lived (and in the case of the Friday the 13th’s, died) in this tranquil setting. Now, if I knew I would be in an environment like the one depicted in Theater Camp, I might have sucked it up, found my light, and made sure not to upstage my big moment.
Walking the fine line between razor-sharp comedy and overly winking send-up is tough, but Theater Camp, written by Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, and Nick Lieberman, gets it so terrifically right that you’ll be absolutely howling throughout. My inner theater kid was literally screaming with laughter at some of the perfectly crafted one-liners and expertly timed bits. Best of all, it is not so insider Broadway that it excludes but instead is filled with the kind of “if you know, you know” references that only enhance enjoyment.
A much-loved theater camp in upstate New York, Camp AdirondACTS, faces a crisis as summer approaches. Its founder and camp director, Joan (Amy Sedaris, Somebody I Used to Know), suffers a stroke while attending a performance of Bye, Bye, Birdie! and it falls to her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro, 22 Jump Street) to keep the (stage) lights on and the staff employed, fending off ruthless real estate investors and his dopey inexperience to survive. Meanwhile, Amos (Platt, Dear Evan Hansen) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon, Love the Coopers), popular teachers (and former campers) who have jointly agreed to put their own performing careers on hold, run into their first conflict as they write and direct their annual original musical.
There’s so much good to go around in Theater Camp that one watch on the big screen won’t be enough for many. This is one of those surefire cast party/sleepover movies destined to be rewound, rehearsed, and rehashed in the years to come. It’s been made mainly for theater people expressly by theater people, but its theme of wanting to be the best version of yourself at every level of achievement is universal. That’s why you may find yourself unexpectedly emotional at the end, when a song about nothing suddenly becomes linked to everything important to the characters and, somewhat magically, to us.
I can try to resist Platt all I want, and while I found him the least effective of the leads in Theater Camp, he’s cast himself in a terrific, if unchallenging, role as a narcissistic nerd who has gotten used to being a big fish in a pond that’s always stocked with little fish. He’s acting alongside longtime friend Gordon, and that relationship gives credence to the tension their characters experience as the movie tools along. Gordon (who also directs with Lieberman) is a bona fide star (if you couldn’t tell after watching season two of FX’s The Bear) and walks away with the movie, even if she gives the best lines away to Platt and Tatro. Platt’s fiancée Galvin (Booksmart) has a sweet stagehand role hiding talent bigger than he may know.
Sure, I may have rethought some of Ayo Edebiri’s role as a last-minute hire by Tatro’s character for multiple positions he needs, though she isn’t adept at any, but even Edebiri gets a few moments to shine. It’s also a pleasure to see actors like Nathan Lee Graham (Zoolander 2) and Owen Thiele step up for some uproarious moments as teachers who don’t hold back their cutting opinions on their young students. An impressive cast of young talent singing and dancing throughout is the bow on the glittery fun of Theater Camp. It’s the perfect length for this type of comedy and never stays in a bit longer than it must. This is one camp I think about revisiting soon, if only that YMCA one I hid from all those years ago could say the same thing!