They're going to learn how to fly. Teen angst and show tunes which ends up being surprisingly watchable.
Camp Ovation is a camp by a lake where young people gather for the summer. They are not there to be mercilessly slaughtered by a rampaging Jason Voorhees, but to stage a variety of musical numbers over the course of their time there that is handily compressed for us into a little under two hours. Along the way they'll have to battle with difficult lines, dance routines, drunk and / or mental directors, angst, love, friendships and undead homicidal maniacs. Oh, not the last one, that's Jason again isn't it?
There is a plot holding together this little showcase, although it's not the deepest or the strongest reason to recommend this film. It's Vlad's (Daniel Letterle) first visit to the camp, and he's a bit of an oddity, what with him being straight and all. The rest of the male members of the camp clearly took it as an instruction rather than a place name and flounce around in a quite staggeringly stereotypical way. Foremost amongst these is Michael (Robin de Jesus), who a little upset after taking a beating just before his prom. This kind of thing is likely to happen if you attempt to make a grand entrance in a taffeta ball gown rather than a tuxedo, but should he be blamed for it?
Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) is another regular attendee and soon settles in, although it becomes quickly apparent that both Michael and Ellen are falling in love with handsome All-American-Boy-Apart-From-The-Name Vlad. Will either of them be able to overcome their low self esteem to make a move on him? Will Vlad decide to move in on either of them first? Will Vlad's evil twin Derek take his place and cause havoc?
Okay, the last thing's from Sunset Beach but it's all very soap opera-ish, largely because the kids have been hired for their ability to sing rather than act. They're certainly not as bad as the often hilarious aforementioned daytime travesty but some moments border on cringe worthy. Most of these are over quickly though, the single biggest source being the lazy establishment of gay characters by having them mince around, lisping and calling each other 'girlfriend'. Once this is dispensed with the superbly named Robin de Jesus proves himself to be a pretty capable actor, and establishes a decent chemistry with the other two members of this sordid little love triangle.
Two other sub-plots run parallel and occasionally intertwined with this thread, the most conventional being a washed up producer and writer of musicals fallen on hard time and struggling with alcohol addiction showing up as one of the camp teachers / directors. Bert (Don Dixon) may be viewing events through the bottom of the bottle but for a while he seems to be the most grounded character in the film, but eventually the sheer willpower of the kids changes his message of "conform, you little freaks" to something more in line with the movies tag-line, "You can't fit in when you stand out".
The other minor but no less bizarre storyline concerns the obnoxious belle of the camp Jill (Alana Allen) and her initially willing lackey, Fritzi (Anna Kendrick). Their relationship degenerates into an intense rivalry with provides a few comic moments despite the rather disturbing obsessive behaviour eventually leading to poisonings. Chalk it up as black comedy, I suppose. Kendrick is very, very good in her role and I'd swear blind I'd seen her before, but IMDB says otherwise. As Bert observes, she is a 'scary, intense little freak' who I can only compare to Christina Ricci's Wednesday Addams, or possibly Damien off The Omen.
Were that all there was to Camp it wouldn't be very good at all. However, these little drama-ettes are only really present to provide a loose narrative background for the series of occasionally stunning musical performances the entire cast put on. There's not a single bad performance of the show tunes and it's this you'll be seeing the film for. I've no real prior knowledge of these tunes so I can't compare them with any original versions, but they sounded pretty good to my untrained ear. My trained ear was on holiday that night.
Either half of the mixture would fail on it's own. If you don't care about the music you're left with an at best mediocrely acted teen drama that wouldn't look out of place on a poor episode of Dawson's Creek. Subtract that and you'd be watching a hodgepodge of randomly intermixed tunes, a mere compilation video. Neither would be satisfying. When they're strung together they go some way to hide each other's deficiencies, but it might have been advisable to swing the percentage a little more towards the musical as it's certainly the stronger aspect.
Camp is unlikely to convert any new fans to the musical genre, and it's not substantial enough to please those in search of a solid drama. If you're after a light and fluffy way to spend two hours and have some interest in the types of tunes the kids are belting out with such aplomb this is more than adequate. As an experiment it's a tad flawed, trying too hard too be all things too all people, but it's difficult to criticise it for trying to reach out and touch people it ordinarily wouldn't.
Subtract 2 if you've no interest in either aspect of the film. If you're heavily into either, add 1. If (like me) you've no strong feelings about musicals or teen drama...
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Joanna Chilcoat (Ellen)
Robin de Jesus (Michael)
Steven Cutts (Shaun)
Vince Rimoldi (Spitzer)
Tiffany Taylor (Jenna)
Sasha Allen (Dee)
Alana Allen (Jill)
Anna Kendrick (Fritzi)
Don Dixon (Bert)
Stephen Sondheim (Himself)