A film as niche and personal as Theater Camp could only have been made by unabashedly eccentric theater kids themselves. It probably also didn’t hurt that the cast and crew were incredibly close knit.
Childhood best friends Molly Gordon (Booksmart), Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen), and Nick Lieberman along with Platt’s fiance and Gordon’s Booksmart co-star Noah Galvin, all had a hand in creating this touching yet hilarious film.
Centering around a group of insanely talented kids including AGT finalist Luke Islam, The Baby-Sitters Club’s Kyndra Sanchez, and Minari’s Alan S. Kim (who’s recurring role in the film is one of the funniest) and a dedicated yet scatterbrained staff, Theater Camp takes us behind the scenes of a rag-tag, low budget musical production and all the ensuing chaos.
On top of the mayhem that AdirondACTS Camp anticipates each Summer, the faculty are tasked with keeping the beloved institution afloat after their no-nonsense founder Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma.
A task that proves to be especially tumultuous after her air-headed social media influencer son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes over the camp and decides to make some unnecessary changes including replacing much of the staff with the inexperienced Janet Walch (Ayo Edebiri) who is named after a real teacher Molly Gordon had.
Fortunately for our loveable quirky campers they have gracefully composed dance teacher Clive (Nathan Lee Graham), sassy costume designer Gigi (Owen Thiele), behind the scenes guru Glenn (Noah Galvin), and the co-dependent, dynamic duo Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt) to guide their theatrical journeys.
Of course, these are theater kids and they know exactly how to bring their all. Collider rejoices that the film is “finally a movie that makes fun of theater kids accurately” and considering the bad rep theater kids have received in mainstream media it’s a relief to know that the film shows just how talented and dedicated these kids are.
Each character is nailed down by their respective actor, even those with limited screen time delivering hilariously keen performances representing personalities we’ve all seen before, especially if you’re familiar with the theater community.
Being a film centered around the misadventures of musical theater, Broadway alums and former theater kids themselves will find themselves howling with laughter and screaming with joy as a multitude of jokes and references are thrown at them in every passing scene.
The film’s mockumentary style editing and cinematography also encase much of the film’s aesthetic using quick cuts, awkward zooms, and outside-looking-in shots which not only accentuates the humor but also heightens the emotional impact of the more serious scenes.
The film almost behaves as a duo performance as we dance closer and closer to opening night of Rebecca-Diane and Amos’s original musical “Joan, Still” inspired by the camp’s founder, while simultaneously watching two soul-bonded individuals lose each other’s trust culminating in a climatic argument that will have viewers audibly gasping.
The entire third act, much like moments before curtain call, is incredibly stress-inducing as all of our character’s worst sides are unleashed and the stakes are raised even higher. Reminiscent of its movie-musical predecessors Hairspray and Pitch Perfect, all the drama off-stage harmonizes with a final performance that will leave viewers speechless.
From the raw talent of the young actors to extraordinarily poignant performances from our adult leads, Theater Camp’s conclusion will have even the most cantankerous, theater-hating viewer cracking a smile.
The reputation of movie-musicals and theater culture in general has ranged from unrealistically annoying to outstanding spectacles of cinema. One of the appeals of Theater Camp is its ability to stand in between as a satirization and a showcase of what theater is.
Because theater isn’t just a group of people bursting out into song and dance at random times. Theater is motifs and melodies replaying in your head, the staying up all night to deliver that line just right, and most importantly, the relationships you make along the way that may last a lifetime.
Gordon, Lieberman, and Platt are living proof that theater stays with you. As real life footage of Gordon and Platt are shown in the film to show the closeness between their two characters the audience’s senses a deep personal connection offscreen as well.
The very existence of Theater Camp is a bit of an underdog story as Molly Gordon told Deadline, “It was really hard to get this made…I just would not take no as an answer,” proving that passion and dedication persevere.
In true theater kid fashion, Theater Camp reminds us that the show must go on. What starts out as a ridiculous pitch based on an improvised script could turn into one of the funniest films of the year with an insane amount of heart to go with it.