Camp

Review by Adam Blair

Written and directed by Todd Graff

Rated PG-13; 114 minutes

For a fanatical filmgoer, there's nothing quite so satisfying as seeing a movie with an attuned audience - one that not only gets the jokes but is both able and willing to enter the world that the film creates. I saw Camp with such an audience, a gay-and-straight mix crowded into an auditorium not 20 blocks from New York's theater district, well within the bounds of Queer Zero.

A little explanation: Camp, written and directed by Todd Graff, takes place at Camp Ovation, a musical theater camp for young performers. The film combines a full complement of raging hormones supercharged by the jealousies, ambitions, exhaustions and exhilarations of theater, cross-wired with characters who are gay, straight and bisexual - sometimes all three in the same week. Of course there are musical numbers, and they are at least as entertaining (and in most cases better performed) than anything in Chicago.

I thought Camp was the funniest film I've seen in a theater this year, but I'm well aware that its appeal may be limited. Will anyone living west of 10th Avenue and north of the Cross Bronx Expressway understand that Stephen Sondheim (who has an appropriately adoring cameo in Camp) is to musical theater as Bill Clinton is to Democrats - the last best hope of a generation?

Maybe they will. I hope so. Maybe everyone can relate to aching for an unattainable love object amid adolescent sexual confusion, even if they don't know any guys who attended their junior prom in drag (and got beaten up by tuxedoed homophobes for their trouble). That happens to Michael (Robin de Jesus) in Camp's first few minutes, and his troubles are only beginning. When he arrives at Camp Ovation - which should be a haven for such a flaming drag queen - he's still on the outside, longing for straight, cute and not-as-clueless-as-he-seems Vlad (Daniel Letterle). Vlad is just about everybody's love object, attracting fag hag Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) along with every other straight, sex-starved female in this teenage Sodom, a.k.a. Bill Bennett's nightmare.

Maybe, too, audiences will respond to the way Camp deals with the clichés inherent in its setting and characters by just barreling through them - celebrating them for what they are while not losing sight of their silliness. In addition to Golden Boy with a Dark Secret Vlad, there's the Burned Out One-Hit Wonder Songwriter (Don Dixon) who just happens to have a trunkful of never-before-heard songs, which are discovered just in time for the big end-of-season show. And where does this gang of crazy kids try out his first song? In a barn that might as well say "Mickey and Judy Sang Here" over the door.

There's also a hysterical All About Eve-like subplot, with Alana Allen as the camp's talented, voracious bitch-in-residence and her Eve Harrington-like slavey (Anna Kendrick) as a worm who finally turns with a vengeance. Trust me, you will never again listen to Sondheim's "The Ladies Who Lunch" without a big grin after seeing what they do to it in Camp.

So theater geeks of every sexual persuasion should flock to Camp. Yes, it's too long overall, and the gay boy lusting after the unattainable straight guy theme should be put out to pasture. But I'm prejudiced (as if you couldn't tell). Camp features my favorite fantasy: Camp Ovation has a sports counselor, but everyone ignores him, and he spends his days shooting hoops all alone. From someone who used to dread phys. ed., it doesn't get any better than that.

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