Sundance 2023 Film Review: Theater Camp

Existing somewhere in a space between Waiting for Guffman and Wet Hot American Summer, Theater Camp tells the mockumentary story of a struggling summer drama camp that is on the verge of bankruptcy when its founder and director suffers a stroke and management is passed to her vlogging, alpha-bro of a son who has no connection or understanding of musicals, acting or summer camp. And what follows is a silly, heart-warming movie that succeeds on the strength and charm of its ensemble. 

When Joan (played by the ever-exuberant Amy Sedaris) suffers a stroke and ends up in a coma just before the start of a new summer at AdirondACTS, an independent and quirky theater camp, her son Troy (played by the brilliant Jimmy Tatro—go watch American Vandal on Netflix right now if you haven’t) has to step in and take over a business he has no knowledge about. Additionally, the documentary being shot about Joan has to pivot to cover the camp’s struggle to survive without its founder. Troy is a self-described “Crypto-Bro” (don’t worry, he, like us, has no idea what that means) and wannabe influencer who is always streaming from his phone to his fans. Coming to learn that the camp is in near financial ruin, he has to team up with the other counselors in one plan after another to try and save his mother’s legacy.

Theater Camp is the feature directorial debut of Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, from a script by them and Noah Galvin and Ben Platt (based on a 2020 short film of the same name), and does a good job capturing the zany feel of improvised mockumentary while still keeping the plotting and structure tight and momentum forward. Molly Gordon and Noah Galvin both made splashes in 2019’s brilliant Booksmart, while Nick Lieberman and Ben Platt have worked together on Ben’s music career. Their work behind and in front of the camera (Gordon, Platt and Galvin all have starring roles in the film) is seamless and works perfectly within the structure and approach of the film. 

No mockumentary can succeed without its cast, and Theater Camp’s strength is in its actors. Everyone comes into the film with incredible timing, charming performances and incredible chemistry. Jimmy Tatro and Noah Galvin were standouts to me with heart-warming performances and understated deliveries. No character is given a one-note role. 

And while Theater Camp is not uproariously funny, its simple approach is effective and charming. The filmmakers deftly pack a lot of heart into every character—including the menagerie of child performers—and give the film a fun, satisfying and moving finale. Everyone has their moments and arcs and the movie goes out on a high note. 

Bound to be one of the top crowd-pleasers at Sundance Film Festival this year, Theater Camp was acquired by Searchlight Pictures for $8 million from a bidding war ensured after the premiere, so everyone will be able to watch it later this year if they miss it during its Sundance times.

Phillip Sevy
Phillip Sevy
Phillip Sevy is a writer/artist who has had work published by Dark Horse Comics (Triage, The House, Tomb Raider), Image Comics (The Freeze, The Tithe), and others (Paradox). When he's not at his computer working, he's planning one of the many D&D games he runs.

Similar Articles