Sundance 2023: ‘Theater Camp’ Review
The following is part of Full Circle Cinema’s coverage of Sundance 2023.
Adapting shorts into feature films is nothing new at this point, and Theater Camp is proof that this trend is far from over. The 2020 short film – also titled Theater Camp – dedicated itself to celebrating the artistic spaces that director Nick Lieberman and co-writer Molly Gordon had when they were young. Unsurprisingly, the feature film strives for a similar thing as Lieberman and Gordon return to both write and direct. It’s a great laugh, as we find business bro Troy (Jimmy Tatro) having to take over his mother’s theater camp on the verge of foreclosure. When camp starts up, long-time instructors Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) lead everyone through rehearsals while trying to save the camp.
It took nineteen days to shoot the feature adaptation of Theater Camp. However, you would be hard-pressed to tell from the final results. It largely focuses on the play that Amos and Rebecca-Diane are directing, and this results in a lot of creativity. The script has plenty of time for laughs and heartfelt moments that help progress the story. Although there are a couple of points that feel disconnected – such as the casting announcements – it rarely distracts from what matters.
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Gordon and Platt are the heart and soul of this movie. While it does cause the rest of the cast to fade into the background, the chemistry is undeniable. Gordon in particular steals each scene, especially when she has her confrontation with a particular character. The way she works in her scenes with Tatro as well is great. Platt is muted compared to what I’ve seen him do previously, but he still rocks it. And they both hit the eccentricity needed for Theater Camp to thrive.
Theater Camp is meant to be a mockumentary, and it does hit that mark quite nicely. It’s formulaic, but thanks to the small deviations, it doesn’t feel quite like it. The documentary-style filming feels unique because Gordon and Lieberman decide to break it up every now and then. In fact, there are no interview segments, which is a plus. It’s a simple film that takes joy in letting its cast improvise and put themselves into the roles.
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When you break it down, Theater Camp is a close cousin to Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. However, it’s so much better because it thrives under pressure and knows when to laugh at itself. It also has the benefit of having Gordon and Platt lead the story. It makes fun of stereotypes that can plague kids focused on the arts, knowing sometimes the best way to combat critics is to laugh at yourself. I don’t have a particular bond to the idea of a summer camp, but it was still an enjoyable flick that doesn’t demand too much out of the viewer. – Katie Rentschler
Theater Camp has yet to receive an official release date.
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