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Movie Review | 'Theater Camp' is for theater people


From the top of the show, it's apparent "Theater Camp" is a movie for theater people.

Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s direction attempts to appeal to a broad audience, all while running the risk of being too niche – ultimately, those in theater communities who have had similar experiences to those onscreen may find the most enjoyment in the 2023 Searchlight Pictures film.

Gordon, making her directorial debut, and Lieberman, making his feature directorial debut, co-wrote the screenplay with co-star Noah Galvin (Ben Platt's real-life fiancé). The movie is adapted from their 2020 short film, which felt like a group of friends trying to fuel their creativity during a tumultuous year. There's the possibility of this movie feeling like an inside joke among friends, but "Theater Camp" is inviting and funny enough to win over a broader audience.

The plot takes place at an Upstate New York camp (humorously called ‘Adirond Acts’), the entire existence of which is sent into upheaval when Joan (Amy Sedaris), one of the camp's founders, suffers a stroke during a performance. Her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) steps in to help run the camp, but it's immediately clear he's the wrong person for the job. Troy is a business influencer with a severe detachment to musical theater (and often, reality). What could go wrong?

"Theater Camp" is captured like a mockumentary, which allows a revolving cast of eccentric characters to come in and out of the movie. While an ensemble piece, the movie primarily focuses on longtime friends Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon), who are overseeing an original camp production for the current season. Rising star Ayo Edebiri (who plays Sydney on the hit Hulu show “The Bear”) co-stars as one of Troy's hires, and Galvin is the camp's head of production. Against all odds, they must band together with the campers to put on their play "Joan, Still," a production aimed at honoring their beloved founder.

It’s clear everyone in the cast had a great time bringing "Theater Camp" to life – and for the majority of the movie, it's infectious. The theater-specific humor might not land with those unfamiliar, but the cast's delivery, more so than the material on the page, generates a great deal of laughs. Platt (redeeming himself after the contemptible "Dear Evan Hansen" film adaptation), Gordon, and Galvin all know how to make a simple line sing with the right pause (or glance) before even speaking.

With a run time of just over 90 minutes, "Theater Camp" shows some strain in its attempt to stretch a proof-of-concept short into a feature length. Some of the bits along the way feel forced (including Alan Kim, the young son from "Minari," playing an aspiring talent agent) and the finale drones on as the movie shifts towards the performance of “Joan, Still.”

The film takes viewers seemingly through the entire play, which feels like a ploy to reach a feature-length runtime more than a funny part of an otherwise-sharp screenplay.

While the buildup to the performance allows for comedic mishaps and the palpable stress of putting on the show; once everyone hits the stage and personal conflicts are sorted out, the movie's comedic engine starts to slow down.

“Theater Camp” opens Friday, August 4 at The Little Theatre. Tickets here.

Matt Passantino is a freelance contributor to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].