Directed by Todd Graff. Starring Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin de Jesus, Stephen Cutts, Vince Rimoldi, Kahiry Bess, Tiffany Taylor, Don Dixon. (2003, PG-13, 114 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 15, 2003
After watching Todd Graff’s sunshiny ode to all things musical and teenaged and sexually tormented, I began to develop serious doubts as to whether or not the sun would, indeed, come out tomorrow, tomorrow, et cetera. And if the sun did come out, would I find a world repopulated by braying drama-camp fanatics, swarming like flies around the bloated carcass of another super-duper musical number so excruciatingly devised and performed with such rampant, soul-numbing glee as to not only blind the hapless viewer with an Alien-like spray of foul acidic treacle but also render the complex inner workings of all available ears a barren stretch of raw and aching silence? Writer/director Graff, who had a part in last year’s Death to Smoochy (that film’s director, Danny DeVito, is listed as one of Camp’s co-producers) and also penned the scripts for both The Beautician and the Beast and the remake of The Vanishing (a scenaristic odd couple if ever there was one), has been scoring high marks from the Great White Wayfarers with this "edgy" examination of what goes on behind the scenes at drama camp. Camp is exactly the sort of film that drives down Broadway ticket sales, if only because people fear the reality may ape the fantasy. Fantasies like this should be asphyxiated at birth. The camp in question is based, loosely one hopes, on New York state’s famed Stagedoor Manor camp, which takes in the wretched refuse of wannabe showstoppers and, again, one hopes, turns them into troupers in the Andy Hardy vein. As Mad magazine used to say, however, this is purely humor in a jugular vein for anyone without a yen to don a pair of tap shoes and shuffle off to Buffalo anytime soon. Camp has also been compared to Alan Parker’s Fame, which operates with a similar love of behind-the-scenes melodrama and youthful idealism, but different in that it doesn’t induce brain-swelling revulsion in the viewer. There’s nothing wrong with that sort of can-do schmaltz, of course, but Graff and his company of high-strung, sexually bewildered, and clichéd-beyond-repair characters sob, emote, and scrunch up their hopefully hopeless little mugs until you wish mightily that this was Camp Crystal Lake and Events Coordinator Jason Voorhees would show up to lead them all off to their just deserts. (These chipper little howler monkeys would be singing "The Candyman" all the way, too, I just know it.) There are few rays of light in the gloom. Daniel Letterle, whose character Vlad is the film’s focal point and the only straight guy in the camp, apparently, has an ingratiating, rebellious charm, but it’s overwhelmed time and again by Robin de Jesus’ smitten and acne-scarred Michael. Ditto for Don Dixon, as fallen Broadway legend Bert Hanley, who’s traded his libretto for a Coke can full of scotch. When those crazy kids finally break into his hidden cache of songs and really put on a show, you suddenly realize that career-destroying alcoholism isn’t always such a bad thing. Real-world drama campers (and former drama campers) may just delight in this "wacky" teenage soap opera, but the rest will be more likely to seek out the underside of a speeding truck to stop the madness once and for all.