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We Need More Movies Like Theater Camp

"What's a straight play?"
"Well, there are musicals, and there are straight plays."
"What would be a gay play?"
"I guess... a musical?"

Theater Camp reminds me of simpler, better times, when all you needed to make a movie was a camera and a good idea. Today, everything we see is a billion dollar affair with celebrities constantly stepping out of limos.

Instead of a star-studded and over-budgeted production, Theater Camp is a mockumentary with deliberately low production values and an intimate ensemble cast. The result is a beautiful and hilarious story that you can't get from a Hollywood blockbuster.

Mind you, I love a big Hollywood blockbuster. I'm not a frustrated edgelord who insists on independent art films about the human condition. For example, I watch everything Marvel puts out (okay, I only got through one episode of Secret Wars) and once freaked out because some cast members from the Arrowverse were in town. I live for big stories.

But I've been missing the smaller ones.

Theater Camp is a perfect film. We open with Jane (Amy Sedaris) chasing down donations and volunteers in a desperate effort to keep her run-down theater camp from closing. But when a strobe light puts her in a coma, the responsibility for running theater camp goes to her idiot son, a total bro named Troy with a ballcap, a selfie stick, and no idea how theater works. Actually, he has no idea how anything works.

The camp is infested with exactly the sort of quirky goofballs you'd expect. The students love them, of course. Theater camp is where these kids go to escape bullies and sing musicals all day.

While the mock-umentary follows a lot of story threads, we mostly follow Ben Platt and Molly Gordon (who also directed) playing old friends trying to create a musical tribute to Jane, all while unresolved problems from their past finally boil over and threaten to ruin their friendship.

Troy really shines as a hysterical counterpoint to the eccentric teachers. They hate the way he talks, like he's constantly trying to hype up a crowd before a rap song. They hate his ignorance. They hate the fact that he's not a weirdo like them. You'll hate him at first, too, but eventually you'll see there's a heart of gold beating inside of Troy, even if he's a complete idiot. Is it so wrong that he wants to be an influencer? You'll even feel sorry for him when the actors push him away and won't sit with him, becoming exactly the snobs they're normally running away from.

Ayo Edebiri is a real standout, one of the new teachers who lied on her resume and has no idea how acting works. Instead of stage fighting, she just teaches the kids to hit each other. Naturally, they love it.

The filming style is effectively immersive. The grainy, simple video feed captured me right away. While it's fun to be on the edge of your seat when the villain has strapped the hero's love interest to a train track, it's even more exciting when you're leaning forward and holding your breath because you want to know if the kids can pull off the last act of the hastily-written musical. The stakes are high in Theater Camp, and every scene is a one-two punch of drama and humor, over and over again, as the film tumbles toward the seemingly impossible task of saving the camp.

You'll laugh until your sides hurt, and you'll love every second of it.

Final Analysis: Hilarious and gripping. Five out of five awkward rotary club meetings.

Adam D. Jones is a novelist, historian, and undefeated cat wrestler. He's also something of a Troy himself, having married into musical theater and finding himself surrounded by dancing weirdos who always have time to sing ALL of Rent at a moment's notice. Send help.

1 comment:

  1. Try 2003's movie "Camp" very similar with better music. A very young Anna Kendrick and Robin De Jesus are in it.


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