THE STORY – As summer rolls around again, kids are gathering from all over to attend AdirondACTS, a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York that’s a haven for budding performers. After its indomitable founder Joan (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, her clueless “crypto-bro” son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is tasked with keeping the thespian paradise running. With financial ruin looming, Troy must join forces with Amos (Ben Platt), Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), and their band of eccentric teachers to come up with a solution before the curtain rises on opening night.
THE CAST – Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edibiri, Amy Sedaris, Caroline Aaron, Nathan Lee Graham, Owen Thiele & Alan Kim
THE TEAM – Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman (Directors/Writers) Noah Galvin & Ben Platt (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
Every so often, a movie comes along that speaks to a specific group of people, and it’s easy to wonder if it will have wide appeal. “Theater Camp” feels exactly like that type of film. And while it is seemingly crafted, specifically, for theater kids to watch at their cast parties until the end of time, the miraculous thing is that it’s broad and universal enough to play well to anyone, regardless of their proximity to the stage. It’s truly hilarious, with enough genuine emotion centered around likable characters to win over viewers most allergic to musical theater.
It’s another summer at AdirondACTS, a big-hearted but small-budgeted theater camp. Campers and counselors alike live their entire years in anticipation of this sunny time of cabins and curtain calls. But disaster strikes as the camp’s longtime leader Joan (Amy Sedaris), falls into a coma, which means that her decidedly untheatrical son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is now in charge. The camp is in dire financial straits, and Troy and the other adults who lead the camp must do all they can to figure a way out of their situation and make sure the kids have as wonderful a summer as always.
As one would hope with a comedy, the biggest achievement of “Theater Camp” is its humor. It’s an incredibly joke-dense movie, with much of it improvised in the vein of Christopher Guest’s films. With such a high joke-per-minute average, not all of them will inevitably land, especially given how broad some are. But some of the most successful comedic moments come from the over-the-top loving mockery of theater kids – both those who once were and those who are still quite literally children. It’s clear that the writers and directors pulled this film together out of a deep love and affection for their own time spent at theater camps, which keeps the playful mockery from veering into cruelty.
The deep ensemble of comedic talents all turn in fantastic work, particularly the central camp counselors, played by Molly Gordon and Ben Platt. This duo portrays the grown-up versions of the kinds of kids who would burst into song at an IHOP after their high school musical. They’re ridiculous and spotlight-hogging, and Gordon and Platt know precisely what they’re doing as they smartly keep them from becoming fully annoying. These characters are clearly based on individuals they’ve encountered in the theater and, possibly, even some of the more theatrical instincts that the two actors may have themselves.
It is unsurprising that a film like this would build to a musical finale, and “Theater Camp” doesn’t let its audience down. The campers’ performance at the film’s conclusion is riotously funny, featuring ridiculous lyrics performed with total conviction by a talented cast of children. And it all leads to a final song that’s both funny and moving, thanks to the intelligent way the film has built up the individual campers and counselors to show how important the camp is to each of them.
“Theater Camp” is the kind of densely comedic film that will undoubtedly inspire countless rewatches by those who love it. It achieves the difficult task of being consistently funny while never sacrificing character and plot development. These kids deserve all the applause they can get.