I actually, personally, would pay full price for this movie to see it again; I give it Matinee with Snacks because I know I was probably more entranced by the exhilaration of the movie in the moment than the cooler light of day might reveal. That, and the energy of seeing the Southern California premiere in a theatre full of cast members adds an extra vibe that cannot be replicated in a cramped art house. That disclaimer aside, I loved Camp, I simply adored it. I know when I come out of a movie and jump on the cel phone to tell anyone in my time zone to see it when it comes out that it made a visceral impact on me.
A tiny little film, shot in 28 days on location (but with a changed name) at and based on the Stage Door Manor performance art camp in upstate New York, Camp is a labor of love. Written, directed, and produced by Todd Graff as a fictionalized love letter to that woodland institution, Camp explores a summer’s worth of kids who find themselves through the arts. It should be required viewing for all the people out there who want to cut arts and education funding, who think the NEA is a haven for freaks and sodomites, or who think theatre people deserve derision and/or beatings. And any theatre sympathizer would be foolish to miss it.
What’s great about this camp is not just the camaraderie of understanding that is clearly missing from these kids’ lives, but also the openness that people in the arts can have with each other. People’s real feelings and inner monologues so often are suppressed by management, artificial senses of propriety or lineality, but not here. It seems odd, even in a filmic context, for these characters to say all they say – but you know it is exactly what they are thinking. They are free here in a way most people can only dream of. And it is the love of performance that gives them that freedom. This sense of community and safety is similar to that shared by Star Trek aficionados and other niche fan bases populated by people considered “misfits,” with one happy by-product: A rilly big shoo.
These kids are all doing their own singing and dancing (which certain big, Oscar-nominated stars with years of experience and training were recently lauded for) and they make American Idol look like the Gong Show. Part of it is the material – you have to be musically and emotionally sophisticated to properly perform Sondheim’s The Ladies Who Lunch at the age of 15. The original songs are great (if obvious) anthems for the movie’s themes, but you still walk out of there happier for it.
Since everyone in the movie is basically chock full of unknowns, get to know these names: Robin de Jesus as shy gay Latino Michael, Anna Kendrick as bizarre low-status Fritzi, Daniel Letterle as crowd-pleasing hunk Vlad, Joanna Chilcoat as wallflower Ellen…the list goes on, but Vlad, Elle, and Michael are the core triad, with Kendrick stealing the show in the third act. I did not get the character name of the quiet girl whose jaw was wired shut to look her real name up, and for that I apologize, but her beauty and dignity stopped the show. Go see it, won’t you?
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/25/03 (LA/NY/SF)
Time in minutes 114
Director Todd Graff