Existing somewhere in a space between Waiting for Guffman and hot and humid american summer, theater camp tells the fictional story of a struggling summer theater camp that is on the verge of bankruptcy when its founder and director suffers a stroke and management is handed over to his vlogging, alpha-bro of a son who has no connection or understanding of musicals, acting or summer camp. And what follows is a silly, heartwarming film that succeeds thanks to the strength and charm of its ensemble.
When Joan (played by the always rambunctious Amy Sedaris) suffers a stroke and ends up in a coma just before the start of a new summer at AdirondACTS, an offbeat independent theater camp, her son Troy (played by the brilliant Jimmy Tatro—Go See american vandal on Netflix right now if you haven’t) has to step in and take over a business he has no knowledge of. Additionally, the documentary shot on Joan must pivot to cover the camp’s struggle to survive without its founder. Troy is a self-proclaimed “Crypto-Bro” (don’t worry, he, like us, has no idea what that means) and budding influencer who is still broadcasting from his phone to his fans. Learning that the camp is on the brink of financial ruin, he must team up with the other councilors in one plan after another to try and save his mother’s inheritance.
theater camp is Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s feature debut, from a script by them and Noah Galvin and Ben Platt (based on a 2020 short of the same name), and does a good job of capturing the feel wacky of an improvised mockumentary while still keeping the plot and structure tight and the momentum forward. Molly Gordon and Noah Galvin both caused a stir in the brilliance of 2019 Library, while Nick Lieberman and Ben Platt worked on Ben’s music career together. Their work behind and in front of the camera (Gordon, Platt and Galvin all have lead roles in the film) is seamless and works perfectly within the film’s structure and approach.
No mockumentary can succeed without its cast, and theater campThe strength of ‘is in its actors. Everyone walks into the movie with incredible timing, charming performances, and incredible chemistry. Jimmy Tatro and Noah Galvin stood out for me with heartwarming performances and understated deliveries. No character is assigned a one-note role.
And while theater camp isn’t terribly funny, its straightforward approach is effective and charming. The filmmakers deftly put a lot of heart into every character, including the menagerie of child performers, and give the film a fun, satisfying, and emotional finale. Everyone has their moments and arcs and the movie comes out on a high.
Certainly one of the biggest crowd pleasers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, theater camp was acquired by Searchlight Pictures for $8 million in a guaranteed bidding war after the premiere, so anyone can watch it later this year if they miss it around Sundance.
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