One of the better movies of the year that you haven’t seen, Theater Camp is a sweet little comedy that lovingly pokes fun at the world of young theater performers and the staff hired to bring out the best of these passionate individuals.
Offbeat in the vein of Best in Show (a movie that I just revisited for the first time in years while flying over Greenland) though not nearly as on-the-nose, Theater Camp presents a mix of grounded devotion to the craft of performing and unexpected silliness. It’s an amusing, entertaining, and heartwarming little flick that nonetheless works best when it delves into the more absurd, even if that simply means a random comment thrown in for effect.
Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman co-wrote and co-directed the movie, with Noah Galvin also serving as writer. Gordon and Galvin both have significant on-camera roles as well, with Ben Platt and Jimmy Tatro rounding out the main cast. Theater Camp is very much an ensemble, though–there are a dozen other performers who have small or large parts that each contribute to the magic captured here.
Theater Camp deftly balances competing tones and themes at play; it isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy, per se, but it’s funnier as a result. Gordon, Lieberman, and Galvin are content with lulling you into thinking you’re watching something ordinary, and then hitting you broadside with an out-of-left-field moment that makes it all worth it.
I rarely say this, but given its 90 minute runtime, I actually would have appreciated more time with this cast. There isn’t quite enough time to really juice all the characters/actors; Nathan Lee Graham, for one, would have benefited from more screen time, whereas the filmmakers don’t really utilize Ayo Edebiri’s character despite seemingly setting the stage for her early on. The child cast is also underused.
If there’s one thing I would change, it would be the mockumentary style that Gordon and Lieberman take. Early on, it’s established that this movie is a “documentary,” but you quickly forget that it’s supposed to be one because it simply doesn’t feel or look like one. While Theater Camp didn’t need to be the next Best in Show, there is some comedic gold lost by not truly capitalizing on the mockumentary format.
Theater Camp had an opportunity to be even better, but when its only real fault is that it makes the audience want to watch more, that’s a good sign it’s done it’s job. Well made, well acted, and well written, this is one gem you don’t want to miss.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.