| Camp





Todd Graff

USA, 2003


Review by Matt Bailey

Posted on 10 July 2004

Source MGM DVD

When I was in junior high, I was in a show choir called Sizzle. There were a couple dozen of us kids in the group and we traveled around the county, singing at rest homes, fairs, public events, and school assemblies. Whenever I reveal this dark piece of history to my friends, it results in endless mockery. I am often forced to belt out snippets of songs from Annie or Hair or asked to demonstrate my mastery of “jazz hands.” I am not particularly embarrassed of having been in Sizzle, but it is not a period of my life I am all that thrilled to relive. Imagine my discomfort at having the whole Sizzle experience — the show tunes, the dance steps, the bad skin, the crushes — dramatized for me in Camp. Set in a performing arts camp for teens and thus lying somewhere between Fame and Meatballs, Camp unfortunately possesses neither the energy of the former nor the hilarity of the latter. It is essentially a universally painful adolescent episode captured on noisy, overly saturated digital video.

Camp desperately wants to be an update of the old “let’s put on a show” movies Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney used to make, and all of the requisite elements are there — rehearsal montages, life lessons learned, friendships made and tested, first loves kissed — but it fails to add up to more than just the sum of those elements. Endearing performances of Broadway classics and new songs by Stephen Trask (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame) are linked by backstage dramatic scenes of life at the camp that are sometimes sweet but more often howlingly preposterous. On the whole, the movie is not unenjoyable, but neither is it particularly exceptional.

While the movie centers around the ripples a hunky new kid makes with camp veterans both gay and straight, it is nevertheless packed with at least a dozen other peripheral characters, including Stephen Sondheim as himself, who appear but fail to register. The movie presents character after character, but neglects to offer them any characterization and sometimes even neglects to give them a name. In order for the numerous characters to make any sense in the narrative, they have to be reduced to clichés and stereotypes: the shy chunky girl who gets a chance to shine in the last act, the junior Eve Harrington, the camp tramp, the flaming faggot, and so on. In a movie whose message (as much as it has one) is to look beyond stereotypes, this is really an unfortunate occurrence.

The movie was filmed on location at an actual performing arts summer camp. I do not know if any of the actors featured in the film are or were actual attendees of the camp, but I can’t help but think that a documentary of the camp and its students might have made for a enormously more interesting film as well as have provided more believable characters and dramatic situations. For those who want a film about talented kids getting a chance to show their stuff, I recommend the superior School of Rock. Those who are fans of Broadway musicals may just want to stick to their collection of original cast recordings.

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