A lively, racially diverse, LGBTQIA-friendly indie musical? Say no more! I first watched Camp on DVD about a year after its release and was so impressed by the talent in this film that I watched it to the point of having the entire film memorized, but something about this movie always nagged me. And by “something”, I mean something other than the glaring fatphobia that was regularly showcased in the treatment of Jenna (Tiffany Taylor). It was something else that probably would have been obvious immediately if I were gay.
You see, what started off as this wondrous exploration of theatre, music, and the arts by a group of ridiculously gifted misfit kids very quickly became, and remained, a story about the lost little cishet White Boy and girl. We have Fritzi (Anna Kendrick), a meek little lesbian with an obsessive crush on her roommate, gay Puerto Rican Michael (Robin de Jesus), who’s out and proud and currently homeless as a result, Shaun (Steven Cutts) and Dee (Sasha Allen), who are brilliant and Black and are struggling with craving out a place for their race to fit into their dreams, and the aforementioned Tiffany, who must contend with being fat and Black in an arena where both these things are minimized except when they’re being used to diminish her talent. With this group of characters and the stage set for Camp Ovation members to put on a new play every two weeks, Camp could have been a deeply entertaining and necessary piece of musical cinema.
But alas, instead of focusing on marginalized groups, Camp essentially morphs into centering cisheternormative Whiteness, so enter Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) and Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the blandest additions to this sleep-away camp narrative. Ellen is insecure about her weight, which (while perfectly common in teenage girls) is a very minor issue in comparison to those of her friends, something mutable, and more importantly, a problem that only exists for her personal reality. The girl doesn’t even have enough body fat to attain chubby status (see: girl with headband and pink dress on far left), but we are nonetheless pulled into the “hard times” of the life of one of the most boring characters ever. I say “one of” because the title of most boring undeniably belongs to Vlad, a conventionally attractive and talented kid whose only problem in life is middle-child syndrome and not getting getting enough shine at home. But shine is not a problem when Vlad shows up and finds himself as the only straight boy at camp.
Camp does make half-hearted attempts to discuss race and sexuality, but before we can even fully embrace the characters of real interest, we are berated by Ellen and Vlad’s lukewarm issues and mediocre melodramas. Though surrounded by gay boys, Vlad can only relate to them as it concerns himself and this fragile little straight boy with acting aspirations can’t even be bothered to dress up for a friend’s birthday. Alrighty, then. To make matters worse, Camp is so very deeply fatphobic. I don’t mean the sort of fatphobia that’s so prevalent in cinema, where the fat character is always relegated to the role of side kick or comedic relief, either. In Camp, Tiffany (far right, in red jacket) is a chubby girl who is portrayed as morbidly obese and hideous, and fat-shamed by her parents and peers so much that she internalizes this abuse, learns to view herself as an ongoing project, and agrees to have her jaw wired shut as part of her father’s abusive weight loss tactics for all but 7 minutes of the film. Yes, that’s right, the fat girl is not only constantly humiliated in almost every scene she’s in, but she does not talk for most of the movie. When Tiffany finally does speak, it’s to belt out a number so amazingly brilliant that it gives the audience goosebumps and almost makes us forget that the literal silencing of a Black woman was the very essence of her character.
Attention-slut Vlad (similar to Karma of Faking It) consistently tests loyalties and friendships all summer long as he enjoys the attentions of the very persistent Jill (Alana Allen), and strings along both Ellen and Michael in situations that he claims are just attempts to “not hurt anybody’s feelings” but are in actuality a manifestation of his cowardice and consuming need to be loved by everyone. If Camp taught everybody anything it’s that straight people are incredibly boring and cishet boys (the very thing that LGBTQIA and/or girls so desperately seek a reprieve from) should not be given center stage, because they don’t know what to do with the power they have and shouldn’t be given any more. Ever.
Like I said before, though, Camp is entertaining, as a result of excellent acting, witty banter, inside jokes, and stellar vocal performances by the entire ensemble cast. Despite all this, Camp is one of those (many) films that’s best enjoyed through rose-coloured glasses and though I haven’t seen it in years, I know I’d have to actively shut certain parts of my consciousness off in order to enjoy this unnecessarily straight gay musical ever again.
I give this one 3.25 stars.