Theater Camp review: Laugh-out-loud romp made for theatre nerds

Theater Camp. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute
Theater Camp. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute /

Summer’s not over yet folks! Searchlight Pictures’ comedy Theater Camp is in theaters now; With an all-star cast led by Broadway’s own Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen, Parade), Noah Galvin (The Real O’Neals), Molly Gordon, and Jimmy Tatro (Home Economics), it’s a film that’ll have you on the edge of your seat, keeled over in laughter.

The movie takes place in the Adirondacks located in upstate New York, at the aptly-named theater camp, ‘AdirondACTS’ which is run by Joan (played by Amy Sedaris). Joan and her right-hand woman, Rita Cohen (played by Caroline Aaron), are seen attending a grade school performance in the nearby area to recruit some campers for the summer. After Joan falls into a coma during the show, her influencer son Troy (Tatro) is tasked with taking over operations. Each year, the camp sets out to put on several shows (Viewers will see rehearsal footage for junior productions of The Crucible and Cats), and every year, the two leads who have a seemingly co-dependent friendship Amos (Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) put on their own show which they advertise briefly to all of the campers and camp teachers. It’s then revealed via an on-screen caption that the show is actually a work-in-progress that hasn’t been written yet. The camp is also in danger of financial ruin, unbeknownst to the campers and staff except for Glenn Wintrop (Galvin), the camp’s crew lead, which means the summer is going to be spent coming up with a solution to save the land while also putting on some semblance of worthwhile performances for the camper’s parents at the end of the session. Amos and Rebecca-Diane are also dealing with how to navigate their relationship as Rebecca-Diane, a quirky and self-described psychic, who is secretly offered a role on a cruise line much to the chagrin of Amos who is expecting her to come through and help finish writing their announced musical, Joan, Still, before it’s too late.

I would liken the ‘mockumentary’ shooting style to an episode of NBC’s The Office. It invites a voyeuristic approach to viewing this movie which works well for story that is laid out in front of us. If you’re a fan of Hulu’s The Bear, you’ll immediately recognize the talents that are Gordon and Ayo Edebiri. Edebiri plays Janet, a newly-hired camp teacher, who joins the team after severe budget-cuts require Troy to fire half of the staff. The running gag with is that her character can only be described as an ‘opportunist’. She is granted a position at the camp after stretching the truth on her theater-related skillsets on her resume. Though the average person may view this persona as malicious or ignorant, Edebiri portrays Janet in a recongizably adorable and charming way. Her actions then parlay itself into a funny scene between her and one of the campers, Alan Park, a young but relentless aspiring talent agent, played by Alan Kim (Minari) who sees through Janet’s faulty lies and says that she’d make herself useful as an agent underneath him. It was definitely one of the moments where the audience had a laugh.

The cast also includes, Owen Thiele, and Nathan Lee Graham as camp teacher Clive DeWitt. Galvin portrays the awkward crew lead, Glenn Wintrop, who ends up outshining everyone in the end as he takes over the lead role in Joan, Still when the previous actress has to back out. One of the stand-outs is comedian and actress Patti Harrison who plays the villainous corporate saleswoman Caroline Krauss so well, I almost forgot that I wasn’t supposed to like her.

The movie offered a great mix of self-awareness and realism; Enough to make fun of the unfortunate corporatism of the U.S. camp system while also bringing to life the absurdness of that comes with the mature references that theater teachers may impose on their students. So make no mistake, Theater Camp sits at the intersection of raunchy yet wholesome. Should you take your kids to this? Perhaps. There is some language and thematic elements that kids under 13 might not get and there are plenty of “did they just say that moments?” that would warrant you to do a rewind. The movie features Luke Islam (America’s Got Talent), Kyndra Sanchez (The Babysitters Club), Devon Miller (Moonshine), and Vivienne Sachs. All gave incredible performances and it was nice to see kids actually play the age that they are in real life, which seems pretty rare these days.

All in all, the corporatism storyline provides a more realistic high-stakes aspect to the film that would otherwise seem vapid to the average viewer had there not been a threat present throughout the film in the form of Harrison’s character. The storyline is driven by all of these characters who have a need to belong, whether that’s Troy and his connections to a hapless group of social media influencers or Rebecca-Diane wanting to pursue her dream of being an actually working actor. At the end of the day, it’s not an overly-complicated movie. Troy can be seen as a stand-in for audience members who didn’t get to experience what it’s like to be at a theater camp but can come to an understanding and empathize with those who did. This movie about acceptance, being your authentic self, and never changing for anyone, even when faced with the most difficult of obstacles. In a way, this is the perfect time for the comedy to be released. Theater Camp reminds us that it takes a community of like-minded people who believe that what they’re doing is powerful enough to impact the lives of many both in the present and the future.

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