Theater Camp (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon
Run Time
1 hour and 43 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Nick Lieberman and Molly Gordon’s mockumentary spotlights an upstate New York theater camp where children regarded by their peers back home as weird or different find acceptance and inspiration for two months during the summer. The camp is run by its founder Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), who cleverly named it  “AdirondACTS.” Unnamed filmmakers intend to produce a documentary about the camp.

However, while Joan and her chief assistant Rita (Caroline Aaron) are at a middle school production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” a strobe light sends Joan into a coma. Joan’s son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) arrives to assume charge, even though he had not been involved before. When he tries to get the camper’s attention in the mess hall, no one pays him any attention. One of the other leaders steps up and starts singing, “O what a beautiful mornin,” and the conversational buzz stops as the kids respond, according to camp custom, “O what a beautiful day.” Troy will continue to solve the financial problems of the camp—he has discovered it faces bank foreclosure—but he will never find acceptance at the camp. One staff member tells him to his face, “You are not one of us!”

Dedicated Acting teacher Amos (Ben Platt) and Music Theory head Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) emerge as the actual head of the camp. Thy themselves  spent a decade of summers as campers. As in past years they will write an original musical play that will climax the two-months camp session.  Everyone, of course, is eager to try out for it. The pair have not even begun to write the masterpiece, so they will be busy night and day. They claim to aspire to Broadway careers but have done little or nothing to bring this about. Is it fear of failure or inertia due to their prominence in the running of the camp? Thy decide that this year they will create a musical bio film based on the life of their founder—it’s title, Joan Still.

Other staff members include Clive (Nathan Lee Graham) as dance instructor, Janet (Ayo Edebiri) teaching stage combat, Gigi (Owen Thiele) designing the costumes and Glenn (Noah Galvin) as head of the tech department. The latter will surprise everyone with unsuspected performance talent as well.

Lurking around the edges is Caroline Krauss (Patti Harrison) who represents the rival, far more posh Camp Lakeside next door. She easily charms the naïve Troy in the hope of taking advantage of his camp’s financial difficulties. Camp Lakeside, we are told, is backed by an evil corporate conglomerate intent on buying AdirondACTS because of its real estate value. Thus, we have a 21st version of the old 19th century mellerdrama in which the good guys “must pay the rent” (or mortgage) by a certain date.

The child actors easily convey the ambitions and anxieties of campers who aspire to thespian fame. One of them, Alan Park played by Alan Kim (from Minari), wants to be a Broadway agent. He often is seen on the phone trying to talk his many friends into supporting the show. No doubt, he would make a good Asian version of Broadway Danny Rose. Then there’s Donovan Colan’s Devon Miller, who wants to come out of the closet with his parents—his two dads will be shocked to learn that he is straight.

The film’s pay-off is the staging of Still Joan, crammed with silly songs that are actually listenable, belted out by the youthful cast with all the gusto displayed by Mickey Rooney in those “let’s put on a show” films of the Thirties. The tough love of the teachers is often funny, as when one chastises a girl for surreptitiously resorting to a tube of chemicals in order to cry on cue. There might not be galaxy-wide consequences at stake, s in a Marvel Comics movie, but the sanctuary enjoyed by the campers regarded as weird back home means just as much to these pint-sized misfits and adult Broadway wannabes.

 This review will be in the August issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

Searchlight Pictures

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