Disney + review of Theater Camp (2023)

When Joan (Amy Sedaris), beloved founder of a summer camp for aspiring actors, suffers a stroke and ends up in a coma her management tasks cascade onto her estranged son Troy (Jimmy Tatro), a vlogger/influencer and self-declared enTroypreneur who has no affinity with the fine arts whatsoever. Needless to say the kids (and staff) don’t exactly welcome him with open arms and when he discovers the camp is facing foreclosure, his best intentions to keep the boat afloat only seem to make things worse. Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), two best friends – and former campers turned staff over a decade ago – take it upon themselves to come up with a masterpiece production before summer ends lest the camp is forced to shut its doors permanently. Will Amos and Rebecca-Diane succeed in making a smash hit play or will their friendship succumb to the pressure resting on their respective shoulders?

I knew very little about Theater Camp going in, and so It did take me a while to attune myself with the vibe of this mockumentary but once it clicked, I was on board until the curtains closed. The movie is hilarious in the most rewarding of ways with layered comedy emanating not only from the smart writing and energetic performances but also from the intrinsically funny context of tutors with varying skill sets doing their darndest to get the best out of their pack of young performers. There’s always an interesting meta-element in watching actors play the role of actors auditioning and rehearsing and this is made particularly amusing as you learn more about the backstories and the dynamics of hierarchy at play.

On the one hand Theater Camp is very self-aware and (at times) surprisingly vicious and it sort of pokes fun at the types of people that this art form tends to attract. Some characters have a larger-than-life persona which may feel a bit stereotypical (even though these observations are also probably quite accurate, let’s be honest). But on the other hand these same characters are very well-defined and consistent throughout and you certainly do get emotionally invested in their story. The script and performances are excellent in the sense that it all feels spontaneous and genuine in spite of the eccentric personalities on stage. Obviously at its core this movie is a big love letter to performance arts in general and it makes sure to uphold a fun and playful atmosphere first and foremost. It also manages to wrap up in glamourous fashion with a finale that is somewhat predictable but gloriously entertaining nevertheless.

Loïc Charlier

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