Ben Platt, Molly Gordon Star in Musical Mockumentary
Feb 9, 2023
From Wet Hot American Summer to Heavyweights and Camp Nowhere, summer camp has cinematically always been a place to get weird. But for the campers at the theater camp AdirondACTS, a few months away from home in the time to do some good theatre and hone their skills as the next stars of the stage. Theater Camp, directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman and based on the 2020 short of the same name, is a loving parody of the theater kids, one that knows these types of characters inside and out and has fun with this understandably over-the-top.
AdirondACTS is run every summer by Joan (Amy Sedaris), but when she falls into a coma before camp can begin, her DJ/influencer son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes over in her place—much to the chagrin of the campers and camp directors alike. Each year, the camp puts on several shows (this year’s offerings include The Crucible, Cats, and Damn Yankees), and every year, Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) put on their own show. This year, they’ve decided to crate a tribute to the camp’s director with Joan, Still, a show that is still very much a work-in-progress, in that it hasn’t been written yet.
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Amongst the staff, we also meet Glenn (an excellent Noah Galvin), who works behind-the-scenes, but clearly has the talent of someone who belongs on stage, choreographer Clive (Nathan Lee Graham) and Janet (a hilarious Ayo Edebiri), who BS’ed her way to this job and has never worked in theater or with kids before. Together, the camp tries to put on these shows, all while Caroline (Patti Harrison) from the nearby rich camp, attempts to purchase the camp out from other them.
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Theater Camp takes on the style of a mockumentary akin to Waiting for Guffman, even though not much is done with the concept, other than setting up the beginning and end of the film. Like Wet Hot American Summer, Theater Camp can also feel like a series of sketches tied together by a loose narrative. However, with a script by Platt, Galvin, Gordon, and Lieberman, there’s a deep knowledge and appreciation for these types of performers—hell, they’ve been them before—which makes the film feel like it’s coming from a place of love, even when it’s poking fun at the ridiculousness.
Much of Theater Camp feels improvised, and that can at times make this feel like certain moments don’t fit in with the larger narrative. Also, a majority of these characters, especially the kids and some of the secondary teachers, can feel fairly one-note. But Theater Camp works because for its flaws, the jokes that land outweigh the ones that don’t, and Theater Camp certainly has a high joke per minute ratio, jumping from concept to concept, and prioritizing the humor over everything.
Both Platt and Gordon are wonderfully self-deprecating here, and its especially fun to see Platt play off what seems to be his own earnestness—definitely after Dear Evan Hansen. But the primary players are all-around solid, from Galvin’s Glenn, who goes from quiet stagehand to an obvious star over the course of the film, and Edebiri—who doesn’t get nearly as much time as she deserves—as she struggles to figure out what the hell she’s doing at this camp for people that know more about theater than she does.
Theater Camp isn’t without its weaknesses, but the hilarious cast—like their characters—are game for anything, and the jokes are flying fast and mostly landing. Theater Camp won’t overtake Guffman as the great mockumentary of the stage any time soon, but Gordon and Lieberman show promise in this parody that comes from the heart.
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