by Hope Madden
There are certain comedies that feel lovingly, mockingly plucked from experience. The School of Rock. Wet Hot American Summer. Theater Camp.
The premise of the latter is relatively familiar: a summerlong theater camp will be foreclosed on or snapped up by a spendier competitor unless somehow, some way, a little inspiration and a little fairy dust help the lights and the show go on.
At the center of the crisis: Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon, who also co-writes and co-directs). Amos instructs in drama, Rebecca-Diane reads auras, conducts seances, and teaches musical theory. The pair has been inseparable since childhood – a conceit made all the more believable with the actual archival footage of wee Gordon and Platt, both 4-years-old, dancing together onstage.
Touches like this help to develop the feeling that this is a lived-in love, a mash note to the awkward, petty, ridiculous, glorious, accepting, embracing, creative community that forms artists.
Both Platt and Gordon deliver touching, flawed, funny performances. The balance of the ensemble shines as well.
Jimmy Tatro nails the earnest dumbass bro pegged to run the camp while his mother (Amy Sedaris – genius as always) is in a coma. Co-writer Noah Galvin offers a sneaky comic presence from his opening moments and eventually steals the show (and the show within the show).
I would have loved to see the Janet (Ayo Edebiri) side story developed. Edebiri’s every moment of screentime is an understated riot. Likewise Sedaris, with little more than a cameo, was missed when she was off screen. But the large cast, most with limited screen time, manages to craft memorably eccentric characters who come together to create a community.
This is the film’s real magic, something the cast and filmmakers – including Gordon’s co-writer and co-director, Nick Lieberman – convey with mockery borne of familiarity and love.
Theater kids are bound to see themselves here, and the loose structure and inside jokes may weaken the experience for everyone else. But underneath the affectionate mockery lurks a moving testament to the nurturing effect of belonging.