Joan (Amy Sedaris) is a much-loved theatre camp founder and creator. However, this year’s upcoming theatre camp is suddenly at risk when Joan falls into a coma during a performance. Thankfully, Joan’s son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), is determined to keep everything going. However, there’s just one issue: Troy knows nothing about theatre. Despite this, he feels his work as a social media influencer will be helpful. Thankfully, Troy isn’t running the camp on his own. Joining him are various schoolteachers, including Amos, the drama teacher (Ben Platt), the music teacher Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), and Clive, the dance teacher (Nathan Lee Graham). There are a few more teachers who run different areas of the camp.
Amos and Rebecca write and create a brand-new show at each camp that the students learn, rehearse, and perform for their parents and family. This year, since Joan has recently fallen into a coma, they decide to create a musical in her honour: “Joan Still”. However, completing such a show will be difficult, and the teachers struggle with many challenges, including being unable to agree on casting choices. It doesn’t help that Joan’s son Troy is also trying to assist where possible with his lack of experience in the theatre world. To make matters worse, Troy soon receives word that the beloved campsite founded by his mother is at risk due to financial difficulties. Can the talented teachers unite to put on a spectacular show in honour of Joan? Can Troy find a way to save what his mother passionately created to assist new and upcoming young superstars?
Theater Camp is best described as a witty comedy, and here, we have a film made in the mockumentary style. Through raw footage, audiences are invited to take a sneak peek at life on camp. The film is fast-paced, particularly in the dialogue, which I found snappy and full of many random moments. The dialogue and line delivery from the many actors are easily the film’s biggest strength and contain many unexpected and clever moments. It is almost impossible not to be surprised and laugh at the various situations these characters find themselves in. Another solid aspect is the leading characters, including the teachers, who bring a mixture of on-screen personalities and entertainment. On top of this, the students are a major delight throughout the film and succeed at delivering many great laughs.
Sadly, while I found most jokes clever, some gags didn’t work for me and felt silly or perhaps even childish. Some choices and comments made by the so-called wise and knowledgeable teachers fit into this category, too. The plot is slow at various points during the first and second acts. Still, thankfully, the third act ends strongly and includes an entertaining conclusion with positive messages that are clear, relevant, and touching.
Overall, you must go to Theatre Camp if you’re seeking a film loaded with lots of snappy and witty dialogue and highly random and unexpected moments. The cast here is excellent, and the different personalities on screen from adults and kid actors are wonderful. The results of the laughs will vary among audiences, but for the most part, it is light-hearted, fun, and relatively rewarding during the third act. However, the story dragged at various points, and some gags didn’t work for me (and this is coming from someone who was a proud drama captain in high school and went on theatre camps). Ultimately, I can’t deny it’s an excellent concept, and most viewers will leave the cinema feeling far better than they did when they entered.
Theater Camp (2023) is Available in Australian Cinemas from September 7th.