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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Theater Camp’ Has the Heart of a Performer

Performance, and the need to perform, is a yearning that some people have, and some people decidedly do not have. Those who do usually start at a young age, showcasing their passion whenever and wherever possible. One such location, the summer theater camp, has cultivated many a talent. It’s also a location ripe for comedy and parody. So, along comes Theater Camp, made with love, but also with a satirical eye. As one of the Sundance Film Festival entries for 2023 that could become a crossover success, it’s not a perfect movie, but it is a funny one.

Theater Camp is a lark, one that’s content to have a very thin plot but exist in its broad humor from moment to moment. There’s an inside baseball element to things, but nothing that stops you from enjoying. It’s almost like the comedic Tick, Tick… Boom!, in that the more you know, the more fun you’re bound to have with it.

This is a mockumentary about an old and rundown theater camp located in upstate New York. For years, beloved founder Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris) has held it all together. Now, right as summer session is about to begin, she’s fallen into a coma, leaving camp in the hands of her bro-y and inept son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro). It’s a recipe for disaster, if not for the dedication of the campers and counselors alike.

While Troy flounders, the staff helps keep things afloat, including Amos Klobuchar (Ben Platt), Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), and Glenn Winthrop (Noah Galvin). Of course, they have their own petty problems and squabbles, but a love of performing and the camp hold it all together. When camp is threatened, it’ll take all of them, including Troy, to save the day.

The cast is having a lot of fun, going big. Molly Gordon and Ben Platt are the highlights, especially when bickering back and forth. Noah Galvin has his moments, while Jimmy Tatro is a bit grating, though intentionally so. Amy Sedaris is mostly a cameo, leaving the heavy lifting to the names mentioned above. Supporting players here include Caroline Aaron, Ayo Edebiri, Nathan Lee Graham, Patti Harrison, and more.

Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman co-direct, while the pair co-write with Noah Galvin. Their work has highs and lows. Some of the jokes are really funny, which is partly due to their script and partly due to the cast’s improv. At the same time, the direction abandons the mockumentary format at times, creating a mildly frustrating inconsistency. The focus is more on the humor than on the filmmaking, without question.

Theater Camp is definitely fun, though it’s more fun the more you’re invested in musical theater. However, even if you don’t know a lick about the subject matter, the zaniness of it all does rub off. I may not have fallen quite as hard for this flick at Sundance than some, but after a bit of a rough patch, it definitely won me over.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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