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Theater Camp Review

July 14, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Theater Camp - Still 1 Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures
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Theater Camp Review  

Directed By: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman
Written By: Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, and Ben Platt
Runtime: 94 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and suggestive/drug references

Ben Platt – Amos Klobuchar
Molly Gordon – Rebecca-Diane
Noah Galvin – Glenn Winthrop
Jimmy Tatro – Troy Rubinsky
Caroline Aaron – Rita Cohen
Ayo Edebiri – Janet Walch
Nathan Lee Graham – Clive DeWitt
Owen Thiele – Gigi Charbonier
Amy Sedaris – Joan Rubinsky

Theater Camp is a charming, delightful mockumentary comedy about a group of underdog teachers of the theatrical arts who are struggling to keep their business afloat. Sadly, for owner Joan Rubinsky (Sedaris), bills are piling up, and donors are running dry for her modest theater camp, AdirondACTS. During a routine scouting run to drum up some business, Joan suffers from an epileptic seizure and falls into a coma. With Joan out of the picture, her aspiring tech-bro, influencer son Troy (Tatro), takes over running the school.

Unfortunately, Troy has no idea what it takes to run a theater school, so it falls on the staff, specifically acting teachers Amos (Ben Platt), Rebecca-Diane (Gordon, who also serves as co-writer and co-director), and production manager Glenn (Noah Galvin) to pick up the slack. With the bank preparing to foreclose on the school, Troy is faced with a dilemma of shutting the camp down or working with the greedy, rich corporate neighboring summer camp that wants to buy out their land. The staff still has to run the theater camp’s summer season, manage the students, and pull off an amazing show-stopping play for the parents at the end of the summer.

First-time directors Gordon and Lieberman opt for a faux-documentary style for the picture, so the film has an appropriately low-frills, but appealing quality. As a mockumentary, the film’s quirky, off-beat style meshes well with the visual presentation. The actors, especially the theater teachers at AdirondACTS, are all well-cast in their roles. The plot largely centers on Troy and the co-dependent Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Amos and Rebecca-Diane started as students at the camp themselves, so they understand the importance of allowing children the opportunity to be themselves and embrace their love of performing. However, Rebecca-Diane shows signs of readiness to pursue other job prospects with performing opportunities.

Tatro does well with Troy, a dude-bro and wannabe influencer who could have easily been a grating presence throughout the film. Tatro skillfully elevates Troy into =more than just a one-note aspiring tech-bro who comes to realize the special place his mother created and her legacy as a teacher. Ayo Edebiri has a small but entertaining role as a new teacher hired by Troy to take over the jobs that were previously held by multiple staff members. Edebiri’s Janet exaggerated a bit too much on her resume and fakes her way through her courses, but nevertheless, she still bonds with the kids. It’s not a huge role, but Edebiri makes the most of her screentime.

Theater Camp is a light, quick, and easy viewing experience. However, it does miss a few opportunities to develop the kids at the camp. The kids are present throughout the story as the students, and some have notable gimmicks, but they lack significant agency in the plot. They don’t have their own interviews or testimonial scenes for the documentary framing device. Some of the young students depicted in the film are talented performers, so it would be nice to see the students take a more active role in moving the plot along and watch the students band together to help save the camp.

What Gordon and Lieberman nail especially well with Theater Camp is the authenticity of such a setting, from the teachers to the students. The characters and setting are genuine and uplifting, and that elevates the production. Some of the subplots and situations are heightened or exaggerated for the mockumentary plot, but there’s a genuine charm to the characters. Amos and the ethereal Molly take their teaching duties very seriously, but the students are game for the challenge.

As first-time directors, Gordon and Lieberman did an impressive job with this pleasant underdog comedy. Anyone who attended a theater camp or was a theater brat during their high school and college days will find something to appreciate here. The film also conveys a strong, underlying message about what makes a place such as AdirondACTS special by letting kids embrace their talents and learn in an environment where they are welcome to be themselves. The mockumentary premise does ring a bit derivative at times, with the greedy rich “bad guy” camp attempting to shut down AdirondACTS, but the plot ultimately finds its way toward the final act.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Theater Camp is a charming, endearing, off-beat, and quirky mockumentary-style comedy that offers some surprisingly hilarious laughs, a solid cast, and a quick and easy viewing experience. Co-directors Gordon and Lieberman did well in presenting a film about a fictional theater camp that looks and feels authentic, even though the mockumentary premise runs a little predictable and derivative at times. Any fans or students of the theater will enjoy the film. Theater Camp is also recommended for a quick and light comedic viewing experience.