Being a retired theater class student, I walked into Molly Gordon and Noah Galvin’s “Theater Camp,” expecting a high-energy journey through the lives of this small theater camp. I honestly wasn’t disappointed with what was delivered. From the hilarious performances of the various camp counselors coaching their students to perform these musicals to the hyperactive campers who helped bring this camp fully to life. It was like an extended episode of Glee but turned up times 10.
The movie is being filmed as a documentary about the AdirondACTS theater camp that is shown to be budding with new talent. The documentary was supposed to center around Joan (played by Amy Sedaris), the founder and head of the camp. Still, as she falls victim to a seizure from a small performance at a middle school, she falls into a coma, and her son Troy (played by Jimmy Tatro) is forced to pull the camp through its summer season productions. From the beginning of the film, I slightly thought the comedy wouldn’t get me. The deadpan-ness of joke delivery in some comedy movies like this doesn’t always land for me, but in Theater Camp, it won me over. Beyond counselors like Clive (played by Nathan Lee Graham), Gigi (played by Owen Thiele), and Janet (played by Ayo Edebiri), the kids genuinely steal the show. As these productions are anchored by extraordinarily close and “fully” platonically related counselors Rebecca and Angelo (played by Molly Gordon and Ben Platt, respectively), the kids in this film must be up to their Broadway-level standards. These kids make sure to fulfill it. From making deals on good throat coating tea to having class lessons where they get told their past lives (where one little girl is told she’s living her last life right now, which her reaction to that was even funnier), the kids are essentially the glue that holds the film fully together.
Troy (Tataro), in the beginning, was a teeny bit cringy, which was his character as a crypto-himbo. However, seeing his relationships with all the campers and counselors evolve and seeing him step into his mother’s shoes and fill them as best as he could was a funny path to walk on. The central conflict Troy faces throughout the movie is keeping the camp financially afloat, as it is nearing foreclosure status. By having the kids work as method acting servers to wealthy businesspeople to attempting to charge the more affluent rival theater camp for coming to their combined camp mixer, Troy and the camp do everything in their power to keep campers coming back. The most significant way to do this was by performing a showstopping rendition of the “made up only for this one summer camp term” musical, “Joan, Still.” The musical production of “Joan, Still,” a musical based on Troy’s mom and the camp itself, proved to be a big jump that would make counselors Rebecca and Angelo (Gordon and Platt) turn into a high mixture of what I imagine Simon Cowell, Patti LuPone, and Kenny Ortega combined would look like crafting a production. From its beginning stages, it didn’t look as promising as a full-fledged show, but it proved to be one of the film’s significant highlights as the show started. The students with their talent on display, the riveting tribute to Joan (showcased through the beautiful skills of tech guy turned lead Gareth, played by Max Sheldon), and the comedic fakeout of them showing the musical to Joan (Sedaris) only to find out the wrong hospital room saw it, really tied the movie all together for me.
The comedic timing of the movie was something I also highly appreciated. Regarding the timing, I entirely give credit to the actors who were truly good at what they were shown, as well as to the writing staff of the movie (Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, and Nick Lieberman). Each joke or comedic moment wasn’t a recycled joke from the scene before; if it was, it was built on top of it to make a great punchline. My favorite comedic moment would have to be seeing Rebecca (Gordon) fully try and develop a finale song for the “Joan, Still” musical, and it sounded just off. Then by the time you get to see the musical’s ending, it’s the same song lyrics and all, but it sounds like the best bow on the present that was “Joan, Still’. The movie itself isn’t something to come into expecting a large-scale metaphor for how the theater industry is filled with misunderstood talent; it’s a mockumentary that shows the inner workings of this funny and charming little theater camp. The only real takeaway from the movie is when can I stream the “Joan, Still” soundtrack on Apple Music?