Directed by: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman
Written by: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Noah Galvin, Ben Platt
Starring: Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri
Released: September 7, 2023
Grade: B+

Theatre Camp

It’s not the easiest genre to navigate but filmmakers such as Christopher Guest (Best in Show), Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows), and Larry Charles (Bruno) have shown what’s possible with mockumentaries.  One key ingredient always comes to mind – great actors who can generate laughs while maintaining a serious, deadpan disposition.  They (almost) make you believe you’re watching real people in a real setting (despite the stupidity of the scenario).

Theatre Camp is the genre’s latest entry and is centred on a summer camp for nerdish kids who love acting and musical theatre.  The latest camp begins on an unplanned note when the long-time manager has a strobe-light related mishap (both humorous and tragic) and her inexperienced son takes the reins.  He knows as much about theatre as he does about business (which is nothing) and so it falls upon the loyal, eccentric teachers to pick up the slack.

In trying to put thoughts into words, I’m split down the middle on Theatre Camp.  It’s a fun idea but the execution doesn’t live up to the concept.  As an example, the idiosyncrasies of the adult characters are overcooked.  Does Troy need to be such a clueless try-hard when it comes to management?  Does Janet need to be so goofily ill-equipped in taking the new job?  Does Rebecca-Diane need to be so obvious with his continual disappearances?  The film’s best/realest characters are the children and I wish they had more of a focus.

That said, there are still more than enough laughs to be extracted from the material.  Some are quick, throw-away gags where someone will be made fun of… while others require a longer set up including the climax to an original musical performed by the kids as the camp comes to a close.  Most audiences should enjoy this but those with knowledge of musical theatre will probably latch onto a few more jokes than the rest of us.

Many were involved in bringing Theatre Camp to life, but significant credit belongs to 27-year-old Molly Gordon who serves as director, writer, and actor.  The script was heavily improvised, and the shoot was wrapped up in less than 3 weeks.  In interviews, Gordon has acknowledged mockumentary guru Christopher Guest as an inspiration and it’s easy to see from the finished product.

Getting a small Australian release following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, Theatre Camp is a light, breezy watch.