Sundance 2023: Theater Camp

Directed by: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman 
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures

Written by Maria Athayde


Based on the short film of the same name “Theater Camp” is a delightful and feel good first feature co-directed by Molly Gordon and Nickberman. I was surprised at how much fun I had with this given my mixed reaction to the 2018 short film. Boasting four authors in a script penned by Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt, and Noah Galvin who also all contributed to the original songs in the movie with an assist from Mark Sonneblick “Theater Camp” manages to be sharp enough to appeal to both theater-lovers and non-theater lovers alike. 

In the vein of Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show” “Theater Camp” tells the story of AdirondActs a theater camp in financial turmoil in upstate New York after its founder Joan (Amy Sedaris) has a seizure and winds up in a coma. Unable to run the camp while recovering in the hospital, it is up to her business influencer son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) to run the camp in her absence. On arrival day, we are introduced to tech director Glenn (Noah Galvin), head of drama Amos (Ben Platt), head of music Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), costume designer Gigi (Owen Thiele), and head of dance Clive (Nathan Lee Graham). While all counselors have an important role to play it is mostly Platt and Gordon’s characters that take center stage as they direct and write “Joan, Still” a musical inspired by the camp’s founder. 

The cast also features Alan Kim, Ayo Edebiri, and Patti Harrison in memorable supporting roles. The child actors that play the various campers are fantastic, particularly in a touching closing number that is bound to get you teary-eyed. It was so great to see Ben Platt perform at this level after the 2021 less-than-satisfying film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Molly Gordon’s comedic chops and quirky sensibility continue to impress me with every role she takes although I have to admit that I would love to see her take on meatier dramatic roles in the future. Jimmy Tatro’s one-liners and schemes to keep the camp afloat had me laughing throughout and I am bound to incorporate his catchphrases in future conversations. But by the end of the film Noah Galvin was the clear standout and his performance in the final act was well worth the price of admission.

While “Theater Camp ” adds nothing new to the mockumentary genre it still managed to keep me engaged enough that this is a film I would love to rewatch in the future.  With a large cast and four screenwriters “Theater Camp” could have gone awfully wrong. But it surpassed all my expectations and the off-screen friendship between Galvin, Gordon, Lieberman, and Platt translated wonderfully to screen.

“Theater Camp” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Sundance Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdSerializd, Twitter, and view more of what she’s up to here.

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