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Home » Culture and Criticism

Dog Days of Summer Movies: Camp

Submitted by on August 5, 2011 – 10:53 AM8 Comments

by Adam Grosswirth

When Vlad (Vlad? Really?) arrives at musical-theater-themed Camp Ovation, he causes a stir by being the only new guy in a clique full of outcasts who've been coming to camp for many summers to escape their high school freakdom, and by being a (gasp!) a heterosexual.

The movie is kind of tonally all over the place. It was clearly made with a lot of love, and especially affection for "all the misfits and the losers" (to quote an entirely unrelated song by the film's composer Stephen Trask), but it sometimes veers into Guffman-esque jokiness at the expense of whatever emotional cred it's trying to build. Would a performing arts camp really do Buried Child or 'Night, Mother? Would all the boys really be gay? The best jokes are the ones that are believable, like the kids singing "Losing My Mind" on the bus as if it were a camp song, and a great color-blind casting gag with the black kids in Fiddler, followed by a white girl belting the hell out of "And I'm Telling You."

Things even out about halfway through and it becomes a pretty sweet summer-teen-coming-of-age movie with a pinch of hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show.

Summer Timeline: We begin with a montage of our leads attending — or pointedly not attending — their junior proms (with a bizarre musical number that seems to be set at the Survivor Tribal Council), and end at the end of camp.

Enviable Vacation Locale?: It depends on your tolerance for showtunes, but the camp does look lovely (I believe it was shot at Stagedoor Manor, the real-life camp on which Ovation is based).

Coming of Age?: Kind of the whole point, yeah. With songs! Pretty much everyone learns to accept themselves for who they are…though the whole setup of the movie is that these kids all know what they want to be when they grow up and go to a special camp for it, and know they're gay at 16, so that seems like a short journey. The bitter alcoholic failed composer who's inexplicably teaching at the camp does have a fabulous "Get a life, people!" speech which includes the eye-opening (and true) line, "Teenage fag-hags turn into adult fag-hags." And of course he comes of age too. I like how with all this coming of age, there's no time for the delightfully mean girls to have a change of heart. They'll be nasty forever, and I think I've worked with them. See also…

Quick-Burning Summer Romance?: "A guy like you could have a real lucky summer in a place like this" might be the worst pickup line ever, even for a gawky high-school drama nerd. But it seems to be true. Vlad hooks up with the bitchy blonde Jill, even though he and lead outcast Ellen are clearly going to end up together. Meanwhile, he flirts shamelessly with his roommate Michael, which you think might lead to a gay revelation or at least some bi experimentation, but it doesn't, much to Michael's dismay. (It does lead to a weird shot of Vlad's torso that's pretty porny for a character who's supposed to be 16, even if the actor was 24 — yes, I looked it up.)

Michael tries to cure his crush on Vlad (and his homosexuality) by hooking up with Dee. This makes Vlad (who clearly likes the attention) jealous, which makes Dee question his sexuality, which makes him kiss her. Of course! And of course Ellen walks in on them. And oops! He has a girlfriend at home too! But he and Ellen end up together anyway? So, yeah, Vlad's kind of a dick, which isn't helped by the fact that Daniel Letterle, while cute, is the least talented of the leads — many of whom have gone on to successful Broadway and film careers, while he doesn't seem to have worked since 2005.

Best Summer Ever?: Absolutely. What's drama camp without a little drama?

Unconventional Ways to Beat the Heat: Sondheim.

Summer Fashions: Ellen's Effie wig is pretty fabulous. They get camp clothes pretty right, which means there's not much fashion going on.

Worth the A/C?: If you like flawed but sweet indies clearly based on the writer-director's personal experiences, this is a pretty good one. If you're a musical-theater nerd, it's sort a requirement.

As A Summer Movie: It definitely feels like summer, especially if you've ever been to camp (even a "normal" one). But nothing explodes (unless you count Anna Kendrick's amazing performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch"), and all the sex is appropriately chaste or else implied offscreen.

Adam is a former stage manager who now works for a small non-profit that helps theaters connect with each other and produce musicals. Which is both pretty awesome, and pretty gay. In his spare time, he enjoys being cranky. He blogs at, and tweets @adam807.

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  • ferretrick says:

    How have you not covered Dirty Dancing in one of these summer movie write ups yet?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    "Vlad?" Yeah, no. That's the kind of name you give yourself at sixteen when you are emo and artistic and misunderstood, and from age 24 on has you praying to any and all Gods that you never, never, never run into anyone who knew you then, lest they shriek "VLADDIE! Still workin' on the bi-ness, bitch?" in front of your entire, carefully constructed new life.

    But as for 'Night, Mother and Buried Child? You bet your ass. Because we are SERIOUS ARTISTS who are SERIOUS about our ART and we have read ALL OF SAM SHEPHARD'S PLAYS, thank you very much, not just Savage Love, and we don't just sit around singing show tunes unless it's to prove we know the entire book of Spring Awakening, got it?

  • mcm says:

    I just recently watched Stagedoor, essentially the documentary counterpart to Camp's fictionalize Stagedoor Manor. SO CUTE. And affecting enough that I've been googling like a madwoman trying to find out what happened to some of the kids who were profiled….

  • adam807 says:

    @Jen That's maybe my favorite comment on any post ever. All the more so because I know it's true. (Though, "Spring Awakening?" PLEASE. You know the entire book to "FOLLIES."

    @MCM I know one of the kids in "Stagedoor" (which, yes, is awesome), but I'm not sure that anyone else has had any kind of career.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @adam, yeah, I'm old and past it, and haven't really kept track of the newest, shiniest "musicals are cool, shut up" things since back in my day, when it was the un-revamped Le Miz.

  • adam807 says:

    Well, one of the things I love about Camp is how amazingly uncool the kids are. It's not "Rent," it's Sondheim and Dreamgirls and Promises, Promises all the way.

  • Sally says:

    Few things have ever been owned as hard as Anna Kendrick owns this movie. "She's fucked. I'm ready. And the goddamn show must go on, so let's get cracking, now, shall we?" may be the greatest words ever spoken on film.

  • avis says:

    Hee! I love this movie so much!!! And some things they got so right it just hurts.

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