kids, let’s put on a show: Camp.
Directed by Todd
This musical about a bunch of starstruck teenagers at theater
camp radiates energy. The kids sing, dance and let their hormones
run free. In fact, it is this unbridled enthusiasm that makes
Camp such good fun.
You’re probably thinking, “Oh god, not Fame again.”
Well, yes and no. Like Fame, Camp is about theater
geeks who can’t fit in with the “regular” kids. However, Camp
doesn’t try to be profound. There’s no attempt to weave any
kind of social fabric into the story: In the world of summer
camp, these hothouse flowers bloom in isolation. The film
is refreshingly free of any statement bigger than “Be yourself.”
The characters are introduced quickly and painlessly. There’s
Jenna (Tiffany Taylor), the big girl whose weight-obsessed
parents have had her jaw wired shut; Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat),
who couldn’t get a prom date because she’s a show-tunes geek;
Jill (Alana Allen), the obligatory blonde bitch; Michael (Robin
De Jesus), who couldn’t get into his prom because he wore
a dress; and Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the only straight boy
They love, they laugh, they cry. They put on a new play every
two weeks, from Neil Simon to Samuel Beckett. They put up
with the drunken sarcasm of washed-up writer-director Bert
Hanley (alt-music semi-legend Don Dixon), who makes time to
be insulting between swigs of bourbon.
The best of the film’s humor is rooted in character, and quite
inspired. For example, when the laconic Bert tells the diminutive
Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) that she’s “one scary little girl”
and gives her some dismissive advice, she more than lives
up to the description, and takes his offhand instructions
literally. Scorned by the object of her affection, Fritzi
exacts a nasty revenge—and then reveals an astonishing talent.
is upfront about being a musical, opening with a production
number (“How Shall I See You Through My Tears”) that is better
directed and more compelling than anything in Chicago.
It helps that everyone in the film, though young, is a real
singer, too—Sasha Allen, who plays Ellen’s roommate Dee and
steals the opening song, was singing on Broadway at age 14.
It’s noteworthy, too, that first-time writer-director Todd
Graff has the rare ability to make stagebound musical numbers
interesting; the fact that the entire film was shot in just
23 days only adds luster to his achievement.
The production numbers are, however, introduced in a helter-skelter
manner. This keeps the film moving, and serves to distract
from the fact that the drama doesn’t amount to much more than
which unhappy camper (Ellen, Michael or Dee) wins straight
white boy Vlad. For a movie that more or less posits that
musical theater has a gay sensibility (and the majority of
male campers are obviously not straight), it’s painfully conventional
to have the principal gay character (Michael) pine his summer
away over the straight guy. While a pretty good joke is made
of Vlad’s outrageous narcissism, it doesn’t make the love
quadrangle any less banal, or Vlad any less annoying.
It’s better to enjoy the film for its strength: the performers.
Capture the Castle
by Tim Fywell
Capture the Castle is adapted from the 1940s novel by
Dodie Smith (who later wrote 101 Dalmatians), a “modern
classic” revered for its Jane Austen-styled romantic imbroglios.
Yet Austen herself undoubtedly would turn up her nose at Tim
Fywell’s maladapted screen version, an often-appalling misfire
with a fatal lack of social satire and an unappealing heroine
dominating every scene. Despite what are noticeably good intentions,
I Capture mashes too many storylines into blubbering
Set in 1930s England, the film centers on Cassandra Mortmain
(Romola Garai), 17-going-on-18 and a budding writer. Cassandra
narrates her coming-of-romantic-age story from her diary entries,
a device that only infrequently makes a compelling transition
from page to screen, and does not do so here. What Cassandra
says she thinks and what she does are often two different
things—and the story is overloaded with enough murky motivations
as it is. Cassandra’s father (Bill Nighy) is suffering from
writer’s block following his brilliant debut 12 years previous.
Shortly after that success, he moved the family into a rural
castle; a decade later, the castle is falling to ruin and
so is he. His royalty checks have petered out to zero, and
the situation is desperate. Cassandra’s stepmother, Topaz
(Tara FitzGerald), once a famous painter’s muse, is seemingly
going bonkers from isolation, while Cassandra’s older sister,
Rose (Rose Byrne), a true English beauty, yearns futilely
for a social life, or at the very least, a new dress or a
Hope arrives in the form of two wealthy swains from America,
Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (Marc Blucas). With the
aid of Cassandra’s meddling, a romance is struck up between
Simon and Rose, resulting in an easement of the family’s poverty.
Then Cassandra discovers that she, too, is in love with Simon,
crushing the hopes of the Mortmains’ faithful servant, the
handsome Stephen (Joe Sowerbutts).
Although the film strives mightily to be sensitive, offbeat
and charming, there’s nothing at all pleasant about the condescending
ignorance with which the Cottons view the eccentric but genteel
Mortmains. Mrs. Cotton (Sinead Cusack) is an insulting harridan
whose manners are so offensive that to call her nouveau riche
would be a compliment. Yet the director doesn’t seem to notice
anything amiss with the Mortmains’ fawning tolerance of the
intolerable Cottons, nor is there any explanation for why
Cassandra would fall for the decidedly ungallant and unattractive
Simon—especially with the gentlemanly Stephen pining in the
background. Although we can feel for Rose, who must marry
for money, the manipulative Cassandra may leave viewers cold.
Making the character even less sympathetic is the one-note
petulance of Garai (who was better cast as the self-absorbed
aristocrat in the recent BBC miniseries of Daniel Deronda).
Oddly enough, a previous collaboration between Fywell and
screenwriter Heidi Thomas resulted in the BBC’s excellent
2000 rendition of Madame Bovary. But something here
just didn’t gel, and as if to compensate for Cassandra’s pedestrian
dilemmas, Fywell torques the climactic revelations from her
father with screechy intensity. But at least the set design
is lovely, especially the grown-wild grounds and shabby-chic
interiors of the castle. Captured on film with diffused artistry,
it’s is the best thing in the movie.