Theater Camp 2023 Movie Review
“you guys are so talented, so unbelievable, this will break you. This will fully destroy you. Congratulations on being the most talented kids at camp.”
i was that kid in high school that was in musical and show choir and vocal ensemble and honor choir and bell choir and flew abroad to foreign countries for competitions and went to college for vocal performance. I performed a RENT song at summer camp. I also grew up loving christopher guest, camp, wet hot american summer, school of rock, new girl, schitt’s creek, popstar and the lonely island in general (from the ‘bu and just 2 guyz days), glee (i know i know). I’ve mentored for the young storytellers’s 10 week script-to-stage program for a few years before running my own classroom of twelve 5th graders and adult mentors, each paired off and writing their own 5-page screenplays which get acted out by professional actors in week 9 in an impov-esque performance showcase for friends and family. This film about a son who has to manage a summer theater camp when something unexpected happens to his mother and the cast of characters at this camp over the course of three weeks felt very close to home for me. I knew these characters intimately.
The film, based on the 2020 short film of the same name, is rife with a frenetic magic that is CLEARLY a product of being a dearly loved passion project by everyone involved in its creation (the film includes incredible archive footage woven into the fabric of the story masterfully, which additionally showcases just how long this film has been living inside of the filmmakers and screenwriters, begging to be told), and wow. Every performer is absolutely charismatic, magnetic, iconic, genius stars that have impeccable comic timing and je ne sais quois. I love how well this film communicates what a microcosm family energy is like. The found family so many of us find in each other in niche interest spaces looking to find solace, community, and collaboration we can’t find elsewhere. Some of us finding confidence in ourselves and in our voices through the way. This film has SO MUCH HEART, charm, cheek, humor, passion, reverence, adoration, and is going to be beloved by so many people. There are SO MANY quoteable lines and jokes-instant cult classic vibes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film joins the criterion collection someday.
Molly gordon not only shines in her performance but her debut feature film co-direction with nick lieberman (also in his co-directing debut of a feature film) is scintillating. Their script, written with stars ben platt and noah galvan, is immaculately tight, sardonic, jovial, rhythmic, and propelling. The print itself is BREATHTAKING, nostalgic, and timeless. I loved the production design for the film but also for the final performance showcase. The original songs are so good i need the album stat so i can listen to it on repeat.
Patti harrison, molly gordon, ayo edebiri, amy sedaris, noah galvan, jimmy tatro, alan kim… i know i already said this once but the entire cast really brings it. Every single character is so fun and funny and talented spending time with them felt like hanging out with long-time childhood friends. And that’s magic.
I forgot to mention how EXQUISITE the light is in this film like wowowowowowowowowowow. In awe. And again the production design, the costuming, the song selection of existing music to include with the original music is so inspired and well chosen. Very fun needle drops abound.
I enjoyed the film so much it was my second Sundance film that I watched twice back-to-back during my virtual viewing window. The performances are even more nuanced and layered upon second viewing when context revealed later in the film becomes knowledge held from the outset of the events of the film, the hindsight elevating even more already stellar somatically embodied performances. So rewatchable. If all of the sundance virtual screenings for this film weren’t already sold out I would buy another 5-hour viewing window pass to watch this again two more times I really love Theater amp (2023) that much. I can’t wait to own my own physical copy of this movie one day. What an absolute joy and an honor to watch.