Camp is a clever title for this offbeat and occasionally laugh-out-loud teen musical comedy set at a summer drama camp (think a gay-themed spoof of Fame, in the woods). First-time director Todd Graff’s fish-out-of-water plot plays up some of the secondary meanings of the title: “artificial and extravagant ... teasingly ingenuous,” “a person who adopts a teasing, theatrical manner, esp. for the amusement of others” and “effeminate, homosexual.”
Graff opens Camp by presenting us with his five principal high schoolers. We meet Fritzi (Anna Kendrick), a mousy little thing, as she courts the friendship of Jill Summers (Alana Allen), a budding, zaftig, blond leading lady in waiting for her close-up. Michael Flores (Robin de Jesus) breaks the regulations of his junior prom by making his entrance in a sequined cocktail dress. Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) pathetically begs her big brother to escort her to her prom. Then there’s our star, Vlad (Daniel Letterle), preening his juvenile John Travolta-meets Tom Cruise good looks before his mirror.
And there’s more. A day late (and apparently more than a dollar short), has-been Broadway director Bert Handley (Don Dixon) stumbles into Camp Ovation with a suitcase clinking with airline-sized bottles of vodka.
So Graff sets the stage for an ensemble coming-of-age (and in Handley’s case, redemption) comedy that orbits around Vlad and is only saved from B-movie mediocrity by its plot twists and surprisingly thrilling stage numbers.
When Vlad arrives, Michael and his handicapped pal, Shaun (Steven Cutts), make queer eyes for the straight guy. (When Vlad looks for an available drawer for his things, Michael quips like a high-school Oscar Wilde, “You can go through anyone’s drawers you want.” It seems Vlad is one of the camp’s token heterosexuals (“A boy! An honest-to-goodness straight boy,” one of the staff exclaims). Graff cats-cradles the lines of his love subplots from straight boy-meets-girl situations (no pun intended) to triangles and more complex polygons that overlap (or threaten to overlap) sexual preference.
Excepting the pretentious edits of its opening, Camp is about as cinematically stylish and slick as Porky’s (in other words, not at all). But besides its plot, its the mostly spine-tingling musical performances by the precocious cast of Broadway hopefuls (or future waiters and “fag hags,” according to Handley) that allow this backstage flick to step out of the shadows of Fame (like Billy Elliot did years ago). They’re the most compelling reason to go to Camp this summer.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].