A well-worn mockumentary style follows a group of misfits and their mini thespian charges in a struggling theatre camp in upstate New York. Anyone who has had the joy/terror of being involved in these dramatic summer camps – think National Youth Theatre Wales – will find plenty of resonance here.
Ben Platt and Molly Gordon, close friends in real life, play the lead tutors of the camp, Amos and Rebecca-Diane: acidic in their criticism, and in a co-dependent relationship. They have the Theater Camp gig every year, where they fashion their own musical opus for the precocious triple-threat children to perform. This year it’s Joan, Still, a musical that will pay tribute to the camp’s founder – played by Amy Sedaris, she has fallen into a coma after a seizure caused by strobe lighting at another theatre kids’ show.
Her brother Troy, a would-be entrepreneur crypto-bro depicted by a winning Jimmy Tatro, takes over the camp only to find they are in extreme financial difficulty. His shallow YouTuber business sense may not help, especially when the bank is about to foreclose on them and rival theatre camp Lakeside wants to take over. A collection of comic vignettes – some funny, others far more strained and showing the blueprints of the semi-improvised script – ensue. Gordon, who also co-wrote Theater Camp and co-directs with Nick Lieberman, expands on their original short film, but the tropes are very familiar: Waiting For Guffman, Nativity and Wet Hot American Summer (and its reboot) covering much of the same ground.
With many overly familiar jokes about drama types, Platt and Gordon are quite hard to like as the snipey, self-involved duo at the centre of it all, though this allows the cast around them to shine. The kids involved are superb, embracing diversity and seriously talented: Bailiee Bonnick and Luke Islam, in particular, seem bound for Broadway. Sporadically funny, if not as good as it thinks it is, Theater Camp is still an entertaining put-on-a-show-to-save-the-day movie, with its moving final song illustrating that any outsider can find a home somewhere.
Dir: Molly Gordon/Nick Lieberman (12A, 92 mins)
Theater Camp is in cinemas on Fri 25 Aug
words KEIRON SELF