Theater Camp – Sundance 2023

Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Alexander Bello, Kyndra Sanchez, Bailee Bonick, Quinn Titcomb, Madisen Marie Lora, Donovan Colan and Luke Islam appear in a still from Theater Camp by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Theater Camp uses a mockumentary approach as its means of storytelling in this very hysterical music-driven comedy.

I love a good mockumentary. There’s nothing like the intertitles drawing laughs almost as much as the rest of the film. It’s been a while since we had a really good mockumentary on the big screen. Is Christopher Guest still making them? Theater Camp could rival any of his mockumentary comedies! In all honesty, they made the film in the spirit of Christopher Guest and Robert Altman’s ensemble-driven films–and especially Guest’s improvised comedies. This film is really funny and if Sundance is any indication, it’s definitely connecting with audiences. It’s not remotely surprising to see the film picked up by Searchlight Pictures shortly after its premiere. What is surprising to me is that they shot just shy of 75 hours of footage in only 19 days. I mean, I would have never guessed this from watching the film.

Founded by Joan (Amy Sedaris), AdirondACTS is hot summer ticket in upstate New York for aspiring theatrical stars. While it’s not really much of a money-maker, the camp has been running strong for many years. Unfortunately, the strobe light during a Bye Bye Birdie musical performance led to Joan having a seizure and going into a coma. It was the first medical incident of its kind during the amateur musical. Rather than having someone like camp veteran Rita (Caroline Aaron) take over, the task goes to Troy (Jimmy Tatro). Troy has no business running the camp. He’s not a theater geek and would rather sell the place off to its rival camp, Camp Lakeside, by way of a capital fund where Caroline (Patti Harrison) works. Glenn (Noah Galvin) is the first to hear about this but must stay quiet.

While Troy is handling the business side of things, drama teacher Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon are writing an original musical, Joan, Still, to be performed in only a few weeks time. Can they pull it off or will disaster end up striking? Elsewhere, Troy has no idea what he is doing so he ends up firing a lot of staff only to have just one person, Janet (Ayo Edebiri), respond to an ad.

One doesn’t necessarily need to be a theater geek to connect to the movie, let alone attend theater camp in real life. I mean, obviously, they’ll be the ones who run out to see this film as if it were an exclusive one-night-only performance on Broadway. It’s really no different than any camp experience, whether its a regular summer camp, Junior State of America, sports, etc. Obviously, a sports camp won’t have a joke about “straight plays” and musicals. I won’t spoil the punchline but I’m sure you can figure it out. There’s a shiva joke in the film, too, but it’s very tasteful.

This is the feature directorial debut for both Gordon and Lieberman. They couldn’t have asked for a better film to show the world what they can do as a filmmaker. And again, you do not need to be a theater geek in order to enjoy the mockumentary comedy. There’s something here for everyone, including crypto-bros with no money. And who knows, maybe we’ll get an original musical on Broadway as a result of this film or at least a lot of bonus content on the Blu-ray.

Searchlight has acquired some amazing films out of Sundance in previous years. Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite are among their acquisitions that are still discussed to this date. If the screenings in Park City have been any indication, Theater Camp has the chance to go a long way. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Sundance has already given us some strong contenders for Best Original Song between this movie and Flora and Son.

Theater Camp is a cult classic waiting to happen, thanks to four friends deciding to make a movie together. While it’ll definitely find an audience when it comes to streaming, the question is how many people are going to see it in theaters. Much like Booksmart in 2019, this is the kind of film that I’m going to tell people to run, not walk, to the nearest theater.

DIRECTORS: Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman
SCREENWRITERS: Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt
CAST: Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Bailee Bonick, Kyndra Sanchez, Donovan Colan, Vivienne Sachs, Quinn Titcomb, with Caroline Aaron and Amy Sedaris

Theater Camp holds its world premiere during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Searchlight Pictures will release the film at a later date. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.