Ever felt like a misfit teen? Go to ‘Camp’

Camp

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
August 8, 2003

3 stars

At Camp Ovation, sports is a four-letter word. A gym teacher is as out of place there as a dance instructor would be at basketball camp.

So when shy Ellen is dateless for her school dance, or Michael gets beat up for wearing a dress and heels to his prom, they cling to the thought that they’ll be at a better place–Camp Ovation–in just a few days.

Based on his own experiences attending a summer musical workshop, “Camp” is screenwriter Todd Graff’s directorial debut.

Sharp, funny and touching, the film is a fast-paced musical romp with a few plot twists, adequate dance numbers and some catchy songs that will have you humming along, despite your resistance to the kind of schmaltzy numbers those “American Idol” kids sing.

While there are no big-name actors in “Camp,” their naivete only adds to their performances. The most self-possessed character is Vlad, who appears to be the only straight male at Camp Ovation. Both Michael and Ellen develop crushes on him, but it’s a sex bomb-in-training who beds him. First.

The movie handles teenage sexuality in the way you’d hope your own kids would deal with it in real life. Being gay or straight isn’t gross. It simply is.

During one of their lights-out talks, Vlad questions how Michael knew he was gay. Had he ever thought about being heterosexual?

“You mean sex with a straight guy?” Michael asks.

He’s not being a smart-ass. That to him is what heterosexual is.

Whether Vlad himself does or doesn’t have homosexual tendencies is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or girl who covets him. He is the boy who broke all our hearts at some point in our lives. Either he charmed and then ignored us, or he stole away our girlfriends. And he did it in an almost apologetic manner that made you forgive him, even though you knew he didn’t deserve it.

Fun as it was to watch the love triangle (sometimes rectangle) unfold, some of the film’s best moments come courtesy of the secondary characters.

When we first meet Fritzi (Anna Kendrick), she’s a shy little mouse of a girl. But when she’s spurned by the roommate she idolized, Fritzi’s inner diva is unleashed and the fun begins. As one of her teachers notes, “I’ve been watching you and you are a scary little girl.”

In a teen variation of “All About Eve,” Fritzi spikes her competitor’s lunch and takes over as the show’s lead. Dressed in adult clothes with her baby face all made up, she cuts an imposing figure singing a very adult version of “Ladies Who Lunch.”         Theater fans will recognize songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who makes a cameo appearance as himself.

At Camp Ovation, that’s akin to Michael Jordan stopping by at basketball camp.

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