Sundance 2023: The Hilarious ‘Theater Camp’ is an Instant Classic
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2023
The Sundance Film Festival has a long history of showing great mockumentaries, but this might just be the best one of they’ve ever premiered. Based on the roars of laughter and applause at every screening during the festival, I think most viewers will agree – it’s no exaggeration to say that. Theater Camp is a hilarious new “mock doc” created by comedy filmmakers Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman, based on Lieberman’s own 2020 short film of the same name. This time they’ve made a fun film dedicated to and all about “theater kids”. Were you a theater kid growing up? Maybe some of you still are? Theater Camp is mockumentary taking us to the summer camp known as “AdirondACTS”, a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York that’s a haven for budding performers. I have no idea how this film didn’t win the Audience Award at Sundance, as the reaction from the crowd at my screening seemed vastly more enthusiastic than at any of the other 30+ screenings I attended this year (except for maybe the terrific Fair Play). Everyone had a blast watching this.
Let me just jump right into this and drop the hyperbole now – Theater Camp is an instant classic. Really. It’s already going right on the list of Top 10 mockumentaries, absolutely irrefutably joining the ranks along with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, This Is Spinal Tap, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and A Mighty Wind. It’s hilarious and heartfelt and pitch perfect in every possible way. Not a moment I wasn’t smiling all the way through, loved every last scene of this and every filmmaking choice delivers exactly what is right to make the film near perfect. The build-up to the final musical number(s), the twists and turns throughout, and the performances from all of the kids and the theater camp staff, are all as brilliant as they should be. I can’t even think of a scene that shouldn’t be there, or anything I might change about this film. I’ll also toss in the cliche statement that I didn’t want it to end. I could watch a whole other “season” with these people, especially with the spirited audience that I saw this with at my Sundance screening. It seemed like all of us were having such a good time laughing at this film that none of us wanted this lovely experience to be over.
Yes, as you’ve probably heard, Theater Camp does star Ben Platt. He’s not the lead character, thankfully, there are plenty of other characters involved in this theater ensemble. That said, Platt couldn’t be a better fit for this role as one of the pretentious camp leaders. He folds in his own real world love for the stage and his expertise as a theater performer to give us one of the most authentic and hilarious caricatures of a theater nerd. This is the kind of role Platt should be in more often. His counterpart is Rebecca-Diane, played by the film’s talented co-director Molly Gordon, who is the musical director of the camp. Yeah, I’ve known many people exactly like her, she nails this role, too. The rest of the theater camp kids are a delight, of course. One of the other highlights is Jimmy Tatro is Troy, the son of the camp’s creator who must take over running the camp when his mom ends up in a coma. As much as I find anyone like his character annoying, he makes him such a likable, funny person to watch in this and I never once felt like he was problematic in any scene.
As with any great mockumentary, they also rock the original songs. Good music is an important part of any worthy mock doc. The film’s screenplay is credited to Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, and Ben Platt together. This creative collaboration resulted in some of the funniest original songs for a stage musical that I’ve ever heard, creative in their artistic vision, yet perfect in their ability to mock and make fun of so many (other real life) musicals. I want to watch this film again right away and laugh my ass off again. It was also the ideal experience with a Sundance audience, all the laughter in the air giving the whole screening a special energy. Everyone coming out of the theater seemed to be in such a great mood after. Theater Camp deserves to be a huge hit when it opens. It’s not only for just theater kids either, I believe it’ll connect with many people who will get it and appreciate the humor and the spot on jokes. I do hope they eventually make Theater Camp 2: The Return of Joan – I’ll clear my schedule to be there on opening night without a doubt.