It’s the first day of theatre camp, and kids with big dreams (and even bigger personalities) are flooding into AdirondACTS summer camp to learn their craft. This summer, there’s a documentary crew on hand to film the camp’s courageous founder Joan (Amy Sedaris).
There’s a big problem, though. Amid all the opening day excitement, a strobe light blast gives Joan a seizure, and she slips into a coma. What’s a documentary crew to do without its main subject? Fortunately for viewers, the show must go on.
Theater Camp, co-directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, is a mockumentary about the chaos happening at AdirondACTS in Joan’s absence. The camp can barely manage all the theatre kids’ larger-than-life personalities during the best of times. On top of that, the teaching staff is made up of narcissists and failed artists with their own larger-than-life personalities. The situation is a recipe for disaster.
It all falls on Joan’s dimwit son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) to run the show. He’s s self-obsessed wanna be influencer who likely owns a different selfie stick for each day of the week.
Theater Camp is a snappy comedy that refuses to put its foot on the brake. The jokes come fast and furiously without letting up. But much like spending time with an actual theatre kid, if you don’t have the patience for it, the schtick gets old quick.
There are two ways to enjoy Theater Camp. Laughing at it or laughing with it.
You’re either laughing at all the high-energy weirdos on screen or you recognize people you know among them. The movie was made to make a very particular type of person feel seen. If you do get references to Wicked and Patti LuPone, Theater Camp becomes a transcendent experience.
I appreciate the film’s hyper-specificity, but most of the jokes and references were lost on me. But that doesn’t mean the movie fell flat. Anyone can still enjoy the colourful characters and hilarious performances.
The beauty of the film is the way that everyone in the cast gets a moment to step in and steal a scene or two. Watching Troy get pumped over a camper’s rendition of a Post Malone song is the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages. And the young theatregoers knock it out of the park channeling their manic energy into some authentically beautiful song and dance numbers.
Noah Galvin’s Glen stands out in scene after scene with his unassuming charm. He makes a beautiful transformation, going from running things behind the scenes like Kermit in The Muppet Show to a showstopping star. The Bear’s Ayo Edibiri kills every scene as an instructor who isn’t the least bit qualified. And Patti Harrison’s corporate assassin Caroline brings the actress’s signature chaotic energy to the role. No other actor can shift from sweet to maniacal like Harrison.
Instructors and former campers Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) are the film’s emotional backbone. Platt and Gordon have been friends since their real-life theatre camp days and its clear they’re channeling decades of lived experiences into the movie. In any other comedy, Amos and Rebecca-Diane would be eccentric side characters, but at AdirondACTS, they fit in with all the other outlandish personalities.
Are most of the instructors toxic people? Sure. But once you get past their massive egos there’s still a genuine desire to help the campers achieve their dreams. At its core, Theater Camp is a hopeful film about disparate people uniting around a shared passion. Although I wouldn’t send anyone I care about to a camp run by the AdirondACTS folks, I would have a blast at one of their shows.
Theater Camp is screening as part of Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition section.
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