Directed by: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman
Premise: A pseudo documentary about a summer camp for theater students. The staff teach their students while dealing with their own issues including an impending foreclosure.
What Works: In the early 1980s there were a bunch of movies set at summer camp such as Friday the 13th and Meatballs. Theater Camp plays a bit like a throwback to those pictures but with a contemporary sensibility. It gets the eccentricity of theater people but in a way that is affectionate. Theater Camp takes place in a very specific environment and it has an authentic feel. The filmmakers include specific details in the camp’s activities and traditions that give Theater Camp a lot of credibility. Like many summer camp movies, the focus is on the staff and all the adult characters are distinct. Molly Gordon and Ben Platt play close friends who have been counselors for years but their relationship is strained as Gordon’s character is distracted by new opportunities and Platt’s character fears losing his friend. Also notable are Ayo Edebiri as a new counselor who is faking her way through the summer and Jimmy Tatro as the son of the camp owner who has been thrust into a leadership position that he’s not prepared for. Much like their students, a lot of the staff fumble their way through the summer but there is an earnestness that’s very appealing about these characters and about the movie.
What Doesn’t: Theater Camp is supposed to be a pseudo-documentary but that illusion is never convincing. There are too many scenes that aren’t credible in that format such as sequences of the camp staff drinking confiscated alcohol or morning after scenes between Jimmy Tatro’s camp director and an unscrupulous lawyer played by Patti Harrison. Theater Camp would have worked better using a cinema verite style but without the pretension to reality. The focus of the story is primarily on the staff. The campers are not really characters. While that’s not unusual in summer camp films, it’s a missed opportunity. Theater Camp is host to colorful and potentially interesting students and the filmmakers squander an opportunity to find the humor and drama inherent to teacher-student relationships and the competitiveness of theater students.
Bottom Line: Theater Camp is funny and its humor derives from a place of affection and familiarity with the subculture it depicts. It may be a little too niche for mainstream viewers but if Theater Camp finds its audience, this film could become a cult title.
Episode: #961 (August 20, 2023)