‘Theater Camp’ Review: Adorable New Comedy Mockumentary

Sundance: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s charming and hilarious “Theater Camp” is like “Waiting for Guffman” without the bite. Children of the theater, prepare to appear.


True summer camp enthusiasts have this saying: “10 for 2”, that is, they spend 10 months of the year and look forward to the two they spend at summer camp. For some people, summer camp is their true home, the only place where they can truly be themselves, a treat that makes the real world bearable. Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s charming and hilarious “theatre camp” is a place for kids (and adults) to hone their craft without the prying eyes of the determined. no-theatrical in their lives.

Cleverly conceived as a mockumentary, the “Theatre Camp” attracts our anonymous (and unseen) filmmakers, who start production in just one day. Their plan: follow a summer at “AdirondACTS,” a theater camp in upstate New York run by the beloved Joan (Amy Sedaris). Joan and her right-hand girl Rita (Caroline Aaron) are scouting for talent at a high school, and it’s more important than ever to bring in some major young stars because the camp (as summer film camps are wont to do) is sure to use cash, and what’s more about big bucks , like “young, aspiring, potential Broadway stars”? Unfortunately, the strobe effect used during the production of “Bye Bye Birdie” puts Joan in a coma and the camp in even more difficult conditions.

But the show must go on, and soon the diverse crew of AdirondACTS is in the hands of a looming final summer, including Gordon, co-writers Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, and Owen Thiele. Joan’s son Troy (Tatro) does no however, it fits these improprieties; despite working as a “business vlogger”, it’s clear that he doesn’t know the entrepreneurial (or as he calls it, “enTroypreneurial”) insight if it fell on your head. Tatro is a wonderful straight man, a goofy bunny whose heart (and maybe brain) grows as the film goes on, and the stakes, like the constant trilling sounds of the talented musical cast, get higher and higher.

The main event, however, is Gordon and Platt, longtime best buddies who seem to love nothing more than working together (Gordon and Platt, as the charming archival footage throughout the film reminds us, are also longtime besties. , who apparently love nothing more than creating together). Amos (Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) are former campers-turned-teachers, and the first performance of each AdirondACTS event is a location in the original musical created specifically for the campers to perform (our favorite past post, featured posters and t-shirts at during the movie: “The Hanukkah Divorce”).

This time they dedicate their skills to a production about Joan (“Joan, Still”), in which all children want to take part. OK, naturallythey didn’t even write the damn thing before announcing it to the young masters, it’s a great gag that ends up being the emotional center of the film’s finale.

But will they ever get a chance to perform? Galvin, Gordon, Lieberman and Platt know their satirical tropes well — an early comparison to “Waiting for Guffman” is dead without the bite — but they also know what it takes to make a summer camp movie, most of which hinge on rivalries. with a snazzy Other camp. (This time, the other camp is owned by an evil conglomerate that also wants to rip off AdirondACTS with its poor finances and great property.)

While the entire film is a lot of fun, the first half in particular is full of jokes that keep you going (everything from the production plan for “Crucible Jr.” to the introduction of the “Fosse Kids” is funny, and the film is a late-breaking, painfully, darkly funny, JFK opens with a gag about . But there’s plenty of heart here, and much of it is buoyed by a wonderful cast of young stars who play the suave campers, including Bailee Bonick, Donovan Colan, Luke Islam and “Minari” breakout Alan Kim. as up-and-coming theater stars (and movie stars), which makes this already winning outing even more authentic.

The satirical style fits the material well, and Gordon and Lieberman’s restraint further enhances it (there are no confessional interviews, for example; in a Q&A after the film’s premiere, Gordon said the goal was to keep it real, that’s what they envisioned. it works like the “The War Room”) in a film that thrives on silly excess. The duo finds plenty of humor in the straight-faced headlines that provide the information you need and the “lower thirds” that tell you subject names and occupations (Galvin isn’t just “Glenn,” he’s also “a third-generation stage manager”). You don’t have to be a theater geek to enjoy Theater Camp, but it sure can’t hurt. Mostly, though, it’s just funny, smart, and sweet stuff that doesn’t match up in all of us.

One of the few tricks: not everyone in this very talented cast is given as much room to shine as we’d like (one is Edebiri, who broke out in “The Bear,” and the other is the wonderful comedian Patti Harrison). But that’s just a minor quibble — what a treat to say, “oh, the only real problem was that I wanted more of it” — and “Theater Camp” packs so much fun and joy into its 94-minute running time. it’s hard to be too angry. And while some beats may seem predictable – keep your eyes peeled for the breakout star, you’ll see it within the first ten minutes – the screenwriters still find a way to turn potential clichés into something fresh and funny. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, jeez, you might as well sings.

grade: A-

“Theatre Camp” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Currently looking for distribution.

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