Camp is so aware that it will be referred to as "this year's Fame" that one of the characters, protesting that the steps are too boring, tells his dance instructor, "We've all seen the beginning of Fame." The teacher replies, "They don't do this in Fame" and proceeds to bust a mighty move that puts Irene Cara and her buddies to shame.
Unlike Fame, this film puts more of an emphasis on interpersonal relationships and less on the quest to become stars. While Fame is set in New York City, Camp takes place entirely at an upstate summer camp called Ovation. There are no scenes of the campers trying to hire agents or make demo tapes; they want to improve their singing, dancing, and acting to, in most cases, impress their parents or prove something to themselves.
In some ways, the fact that the action is self-contained makes the film more believable (the actors in Fame were clearly much older than high school students, both physically and emotionally), but certain scenes in Camp make such an effort to be inspirational and uplifting that they are quite schmaltzy.
Also, be forewarned that many of the characters in the film are quite over-the-top, especially the diva with a heart of stone who lives in a gorgeous cabin and stomps upon everyone else.
The three main characters are Vlad (Daniel Letterle), Michael (Robin de Jesus), and Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat). In the intense opening number sung gorgeously by Dee (Sasha Allen), we learn that Michael was severely beaten up for going to his prom in drag. Soon after, we see that Ellen couldn't get a date to hers and even begged her brother to go with her. While Michael and Ellen survived trauma at their high school proms, Vlad seems perfect. He seems to be the only straight guy at the camp, and he gets along with everyone. Both Michael and Ellen, understandably, develop serious crushes on Vlad. Even the female counselors seem smitten by the idea that an "honest to goodness straight boy" has finally set foot on Ovation's grounds.
One problem I had with the film was that Vlad seems to get away with mistreating other people just because he's cute and charming. Ellen's parents call her ugly, and Michael's haven't spoken to him in years, but Vlad's transgressions are forgiven when he reveals his, comparatively mild, painful secret and flirts openly with straight women and gay men alike.
Another aspect of the plot is that a washed up musical writer named Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) comes to the camp to help direct some of the productions. Bert spends most of his time drinking and feeling sorry for himself, but Vlad, inexplicably, takes an interest in him and wants to save Bert from self destruction. This all seemed rather far-fetched.
Despite my criticisms of the plot, Camp is worth watching for the music, dancing, and funny lines. The choreography and singing is fantastic in most of the musical numbers. * Also, some of the jokes are downright hilarious. People were roaring with laughter in the cinema last night, and the audience broke into applause twice. I don't want to ruin any of the jokes by writing them here, but, trust me, you'll giggle loudly a few times.
The tone of the film is fun, and there are a couple of scenes with incredible costumes. The film doesn't take itself too seriously and could even be seen as a satire of a teen comedy. For instance, when Vlad auditions for a part by playing the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," and the pit band joins in as if they'd been practicing it for weeks, the film seems to be mocking the perfect moments that one might see in other romantic comedies.
Some of the songs in the film are from famous musicals by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, and the soundtrack features a bit of Oasis, the Replacements, some beautifully adapted traditional/gospel songs, and an original score by Stephen Trask of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame. He's also a Wesleyan grad.
* Camp a non-integrated musical, so the characters don't spontaneously break into song as they do in The Sound of Music.
N.B. The Epinions database lists this film in the videos/DVDs section, but it is currently playing at indie cinemas.
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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