Day: May 23, 2023

Theater Camp

This film was watched as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Theater Camp had its Seattle Premier during this festival.

Theater Camp is the type of film I knew almost nothing about but knew I wanted to see it right away. The title gave a lot of it away. And I knew Ben Platt was involved. And technically, I am a very simple man, and that was enough for me.

It turns out, Theater Camp used to be a short on YouTube. But it has been taken off of the platform and now I cannot watch it. Rude. It was under 20 minutes long, I heard it had tons of laughs, and happened relatively early in the Pandemic. But I guess it was good enough to make into a feature length film, and they probably reuse quite a few jokes from the short. So that is probably why it was removed, or else we might not laugh as hard at their film. Poor film studios.

Has “buy every copy of Psycho the book to not ruin the ending” vibes.

Professional judges of the stage? Well, I am a professional judger of film. 

Woo! New year, new crop of students! Joan (Amy Sedaris) and Rita (Caroline Aaron) are seeking out new kids to invite, because they need a full camp, they need donors, because money is tight and it is dire. They don’t want to lose the camp that they have had for so long, to give a real safe space to theater kids to finally be themselves. And then? Well, Joan has a seizure and a coma and is out for the count.

But the show and the camp must go on. So Joan’s son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), is going to lead the charge. He says he is a business minded man, even if he doesn’t understand the theater camp. And just getting rid of some of the counselors, he can get them maybe in the black again!

Thankfully their main pillar teachers return. Amos (Ben Platt) for acting, Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) for music, Clive (Nathan Lee Graham) for dance, and Gigi (Owen Thiele) for costumes. And a new hire (Ayo Edebiri) for everything else.

And in a year with a lot of changes, they are going to have to put the show of their life on. Or else they might lose the camp and each other.

Also starring Noah Galvin, Jonathan Lengel, Bailee Bonick, Donovan Colan, Patti Harrison, Luke Islam, Kyndra Sanchez, and Alexander Bello. Most of these names will not look familiar, but you might recognize a few talents from 13: The Musical and John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch.

Know what is better than kids acting? Kids acting actually well!
Theater Camp is a mockumentary, which is a genre, frankly, that is not explored enough. It is getting explored a lot more in television, with The Office format of characters talking to camera with monologues going on. But in films, it feels like the only ones that exist are the ones directed by Christopher Guest, and you know what, he is only one man! So the more people making them, the better. Assuming they are good quality.

And heck on heck, Theater Camp is some good quality.

I laughed throughout this film, and harder at the end. The quirkiness of the characters, albeit exaggerated, are exaggerated in a generally positive way that still somehow reflects the theatrical nature of a “theater kid” or “theater teacher.” There are play and musical references. There are song and dance numbers. There is just a lot of extra going on, and I am completely here for it. I do love their commitment to making this a “documentary” as well, with the text from the directors on the screen as one would expect in these situations.

From top to bottom, the cast seems to just get the assignment of this movie, and they go all out. Adults and child actors. Love seeing the little thespians thrive in their natural state.

What started as a fun COVID project (I don’t know when it was filmed or whatever, nor do I feel like looking it up), led to what I would call a hilarious romp of a film. And even better yet, one that seemingly cannot become franchised and will just exist as its own bright spot in the world.

4 out of 4.


This film was watched as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Monica had its Seattle Premier during this festival.

I am thankful that at this point in my life, I haven’t had to ever “return home from a long period of time away because my parent is dying, and also I am very different.” It is a trope. It is often used when either the parent figure is abusive, or the child who left is rambunctious and rude and now finally better. Maybe even DRUGS are the reason for this.

The prodigal son plot line.

But with Monica, it is certainly a big twist on the story. Which I will stop stalling on, and just get forward with why.

Something is potentially sinister in those there woods. 

Monica (Trace Lysette) has been living in California, doing her own thing for some time. She is a massage therapist it seems, and seems to be fine with her life. Although she does have current relationship problems with someone. But then she gets a phone call.

Apparently, her mother (Patricia Clarkson) is close to kicking the bucket. And it has been a long time since she has been home. Over ten years. She didn’t even return when her dad died. And she decides to drive home to see it happen. That is where she meets her brother (Joshua Close) and his wife (Emily Browning).

Now, this is of course important. When Monica left, no one knew her as Monica. In fact, they knew her as a man. And one of the main reasons she left, is because her parents wouldn’t let her stay. So she has changed dramatically in this time. In fact, not just because the mom is older and sick, but just because the changes are so different, the mom doesn’t even recognize her. And she is instead brought in as an extra caregiver, to live in the home and watch the mother, where the mom doesn’t even realize its her child.

The hope is for closure. The realty? Who knows.

Also starring Adriana Barraza.

That is just one of the few changes.
Here is the first note of this film. It is filmed entirely in a 4:3 aspect ratio. We got a square film. And at no point does it go widescreen for effect, or change at all. 100% 4:3. Most of the time when I get to a 4:3 movie, it breaks it at some point, even if just for one scene. But this one, it keeps that feeling. It really makes it so we are looking at one, maybe two characters at a time. It gives that sense of feeling trapped inside a very uncomfortable, situation.

This is not a very standard film. It does tell a story, but it is one that likely wont be satisfying to the average audience. The ending comes a bit at a shocking point, very suddenly, without the closure one would fully expect. Was there some closure? Yes, a little. In times and parts you might not expect fully when they are occurring. This is a film where I needed to reflect after it was over, just what I got to see, what walls were broken, if any. And what the whole thing meant.

Lysette, as the lead role in Monica, does a fabulous job acting this film. So much pain and sadness in her eyes, while not telling their story. We get a lot of the feelings through music, including the delightful and not forgotten Dragostea Din Tei. Clarkson, as well, gives probably the best performance I have seen her give. And I saw a good 80% or more of the Sabrina television show. Now, sure, the acting is unfortunately her being an old feeble woman, who is just waiting to die. And it is a bit of a sadder role for older people to get praise for, being close to death. But I digress, she is fantastic in it.

Monica won’t be a film for a lot of people. But it should be a film for everyone who likes a strongly acted and unique story.

3 out of 4.