July 2003

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

Distributor: IFC Films
Director: Todd Graf
Screenwriter: Todd Graf
Producers: Todd Graf, Killer Films, & Jersey Films
Composer: Stephen Trask
Cast: Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin De Jesus, Tiffany Taylor, Anna Kendrick & Sasha Allen

Since “Moulin Rouge” brought back the musical genre a few years ago, a number of films have been released with some critical success. The indie film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” made a smooth transition from stage to screen and so was “Chicago”, which of course, won the Oscar for Best Film earlier this year. Another film set to come out now and is being compared to “Fame” is “Camp”. Most films that feature kids at a camp are usually seen on the small screen and with no appeal. Anyone who has ever gone to camp has probably felt like an outsider at one point until they found a friend with common interests. It could be in sports or books or the opposite sex. Well, in “Camp” the common interests are music and theater productions and the payoff inf the film is worth the price of admission. An audience pleaser at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and ready to go to wider theaters, “Camp” is solidly entertaining with a thrilling soundtrack.

The story of Michael (De Jesus) opens up the film, as he's getting pounded on at his junior prom by his peers when he shows up in a drag costume. As the kids get ready to go to Camp Ovation, old friends get reacquainted as their parents see them off. Ellen (Chilcoat), who's shy and asked her brother to take her to prom, is a very good friend of Michael. Michael thinks things will be the same as last year until Vlad (Letterle), the latest newcomer to Camp Ovation, shows up and steals everyone’s attention. This guy is not only straight but he can sing and play the guitar as well. He’s not used to being “the man”, but he loves the attention, including from Jill, the blonde girl who’s usually the lead in the most of the plays at Camp Ovation. Jill has taken the lead in most of the plays until Fritzi (Kendrick) decides she’s had enough of waiting for her turn, and gets competitive. Vlad can’t believe that a new production is performed every week and they mostly feature Sondheim songs. Meanwhile, Jenna (Taylor)’s parents decided that if she were going to lose weight this summer, she would need to eat less, so they had her jaws shut, sort of speak. While the kids are basking in the glory of doing a new production every week and enhancing their talent, guest director Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) can’t stop drinking and forget the fact that he hasn’t had a Broadway hit in ten years and the kids know it. Instead of letting the kids have some fun, he wants them to know that there’s pain and suffering in the real world, and wants to kill any uplifting spirit that they may have in terms of landing a gig on Broadway. But through the passion the kids have and the talent they display, he’s slowly coming around.

Rather than being a film with convoluted plots, Director Todd Graf has used them with fantastic musical numbers. There’s enough in this film for all ages to appreciate. Jill and Fritzi are just hilarious as they play out a scene from “All About Eve” while performing “Company” on stage. The actors, who are relatively unknowns, are very gifted. Letterle, Chilcoat, and De Jesus stand out amongst the group as each is facing an adolescence crisis that only time will solve. Graf based this film on some personal stories he witness while he attended the famous Stagedoor Manor, which had the likes Robert Downey Jr., and Jon Cryer when they were kids. Tiffany Taylor, who doesn’t do much for most of the film except when she sings, but when she does, the film raises to another level. Her rendition of “Here’s Where I Stand” is clearly the best number in the film and gives a new meaning to understanding one’s plight with weight. Not every character is developed, but it doesn’t matter here, for the lessons are clearly established. Part of being a teenager is learning who we are and going outside the boundaries set forth by the adults. Never let anyone tear into your dreams and challenge them. “Camp” is a film that where being normal is not acceptable. Be who you want to be and aim high with conviction.