Camp

on July 25, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
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One of the more enjoyable films at Sundance this year, "Camp" (pun surely intended) is consistently entertaining if not ultimately enlightening. Camp Ovation is a refuge for the kids who don't fit in back home--the musical theatre geeks who mob Steven Sondheim (who makes a cameo) on sight but don't know who, say, Neil Young is. Central to the story are Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), a tomboy who can hang with the guys if not go back to their bunk at night; Vlad (Daniel Letterle), an honest-to-God straight boy on whom Ellen has a crush; and Michael (Robin de Jesus), who pays the price for going to his junior prom in full drag and who in turn has a crush on Vlad.

The film's best bits are the cast's enthusiastic performances of such Broadway staples as "Follies" and "Dreamgirls," and there are clever winks at the genre, such as the mood-boosting soundtrack turning out instead to be diegetic sound emanating from a boom box nearby. The cast is game to a name, diving headfirst into a plot replete with fast friendships, adolescent romance, backstabbing and jealousy. However, although writer/director Todd Graff, who based the film on his own Camp Ovation-esque experiences, knows better than to tie everything up neatly with a bow in the end, ultimately these stock characters remain underdeveloped.

With one notable exception: Tiffany Taylor as a camper who has her jaw wired shut by her parents in lieu of going to Weight Watchers camp gives the most moving performance of the fest (once the wires are removed) with her rousing rendition of "Here's Where I Stand," a heartfelt plea for understanding both on a personal and collective level. Starring Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin de Jesus, Sasha Allen, Tiffany Taylor and Don Dixon. Directed and written by Todd Graff. Produced by Katie Roumel, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler and Todd Graff. An IFC release. Musical comedy. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements regarding teen sexual issues, and for some language. Running time: 115 min.

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