In a reception that’s sure to warm the hearts of theater kids everywhere, “Theater Camp,” a goofy mockumentary about intensely earnest thespians, earned a heartfelt standing ovation at Sundance Film Festival.
Real-life best friends Ben Platt, Molly Gordon and Noah Galvin star in “Theater Camp,” an affectionate satire set at a scrappy overnight camp in upstate New York. The movie, which premiered on Saturday afternoon at the Eccles Theater in Park City, proved a crowd-pleaser, generating rapturous laughter and generous applause throughout the screening. After the credits rolled, the kid stars of “Theater Camp” took the stage to perform a charming medley of songs — including the zany anthem “Women Cannot Read” — from the movie’s fake musical “Joan, Still.”
Taking inspiration from Christopher Guest-style observational comedies, “Theater Camp” begins with AdirondACTS founder Joan (Amy Sedaris) falling into a coma. (The musical within the film acts as a tribute to their unconscious leader.) In her absence, her crypto bro son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) and some kooky counselors (including Gordon, Platt, Galvin and “The Bear” star Ayo Edebiri ) are left to keep the financially strapped theater haven afloat during the summer. The movie, which is for sale at the festival, is co-directed by Gordon and Nick Leiberman and co-written by the foursome.
The audience, likely filled with musical theater nerds, was naturally receptive to the recognizable quirks and experiences depicted in “Theater Camp.” Alan S. Kim, the breakout star of “Minari,” which premiered at Sundance in 2020, received some of the loudest laughs in the film for his adorable, scene-stealing role as a pint-sized agent.
Prior to the screening, Leiberman called the film a “labor of love” and joked that the cast “just wants to know what the movie is… they don’t know,” since so many scenes were improvised. “They’ll find out momentarily,” he added.
In a post-screening (and post-performance) Q&A, Gordon provided a little insight into the origins of “Theater Camp.”
“It literally came out of us wanting to make something with our friends. I met Ben when I was three years old,” Gordon said tearfully. “I was in love with him and he was so gay. He didn’t like me.” She added, “We just always wanted to make something as a collective.”
Of course, they’re happy the film has resonated with audiences. But ultimately, the four friends wanted to create a piece of art that celebrates anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.
“Thank you for being here,” Gordon said. “We didn’t think anyone was going to show up.”