Writer/actor Todd Graff makes a splashy directorial debut with Camp, an energetically staged musical comedy drama set at a summer camp for performing kids. Camp is full of fresh faces and raw talent, and the multitudinous musical numbers are as spirited and entertaining as anything in Chicago, though the film traces its roots directly back to Fame, which is acknowledged in one typically sharp and funny reference. Like Fame, Camp charms with an assortment of engaging and talented performers, many of whom are making their film debuts. Also like Fame, the atmosphere and the kids themselves are far more interesting than the soap opera backstage melodrama that passes for a plot. Graff wins us over, though, with his obvious love of the milieu, and his equally obvious sympathy for these kids, whom he affectionately portrays as outcasts. Right from the film's opening, in which Michael (Robin de Jesus) gets bashed by his classmates after showing up for his prom in an evening gown, we know that Camp Ovation is a safe haven for these kids -- a world apart from the "real" world, and that helps to sell the film's somewhat creaky plot machinations. It's hard to complain when said plot devices allow for a hilarious show-stopping number like the downtrodden Fritzi's (Anna Kendrick) icy rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Ladies Who Lunch." But even with Graff's admirable ability to write snappy patter and stage one thrilling little musical sequence after another, one can't help thinking that this exuberant and skilled cast might have been better served by a more realistic story, along the lines of Jim McKay's Our Song. It would be nice if it took place in the real world, but make no mistake -- Camp is tremendously entertaining, and well worth seeing. And don't walk out during the closing credits, either.
by Josh Ralske review