Camp

Once more, with feeling: A de facto remake of Fame centering on a motley group of Broadway prodigies, writer-director Todd Graff's disarming musical Camp makes many of the same mistakes, treating their soapy intrigues with the sort of careless rhythm that would get them booed off stage. But just like its lovable young performers, who embrace their calling with too much unguarded fervor to fully dismiss, the film lives for opening night, when it can temporarily sing and dance its troubles away. Before Graff gets too mired in everyone's Breakfast Club dilemmas–one seemingly flawless kid is given obsessive-compulsive disorder for some reason–Camp combines with the prouder traditions of the bitchy backstage comedy and a show-stopping musical revue. Inspired by Graff's own experiences at New York's Stagedoor Manor, which he remodeled for shooting, the film takes place at Camp Ovation, a summer workshop for teenage singers, dancers, actors, and musicians with show tunes coursing through their veins. Performing at a rigorous pace, with new shows every two weeks and a benefit at summer's end, they cycle through the major works of Shakespeare, Beckett, Simon, and Sondheim, all the while developing crucial backstabbing and diva-meltdown skills. Graff reserves most of his energies and affection for a hopeless love triangle formed around Daniel Letterle, an attractive and sensitive singer-songwriter type whose distinction as the sole straight male in camp draws both sexes like moths to flame. Too eager to make everyone happy, Letterle gets himself into trouble when he flirts with roommate Robin de Jesus, a pimply drag queen who tried to go to prom in sequins, and Joanna Chilcoat, a wallflower who's flattered by the attention. Their dreams are tempered by a bitter dose of reality under the tutelage of Don Dixon, a washed-up Broadway composer who arrives with a suitcase full of liquor and a determination to squash their enthusiasm. Juicer than any of the rote conflicts is a hilarious All About Eve riff in which a devoted underling (Anna Kendrick) turns on her ungrateful master (Alana Allen) in the middle of a performance. Camp could use a few more sour notes to keep its Up With People vibe in check, because Graff's compulsion to lead every subplot to a feel-good conclusion grows forced and predictable, like an ingratiating dog that doesn't know when to stop licking. But the stage performances, from the small scale of three kids penned in a Dumpster for Beckett's Midnight Sun ("Try not to screw up the blocking this time!," their director screams) to Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach's splashier Promises, Promises, are choreographed with undeniable energy and wit. Camp offers plenty of reasons to bristle at its cheery shamelessness, but it's too high-spirited and charming to resist.

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