sleeping dog2003 Release
Stars: Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin De Jesus, Steven Cutts, Don Dixon
Director: Todd Graff
Writers: Todd Graff

Camp is one of those sickening feel-good movies that panders to the audience at every turn. Director-writer Todd Graff, who has tried way too hard to please, said he wanted to make something gritty but what he got, instead, is more akin to maple syrup.

The setting of the film is “Camp Ovation”, based on an actual summer camp for young actors, singers and dancers where they get to hone their skills while discovering who they really are. It’s being likened to Fame but as I recall, that film really did have some grit to it.

The Camp Ovation kids are painted in broad strokes as outcasts and misfits. There’s Michael (Robin De Jesus) who tries to get into his junior prom in drag while the unpopular Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) can’t even get her brother to take her to hers. One girl is perceived as too fat by her parents so they have her jaw wired shut for the two-months she’ll be at camp. How they expect her to learn her trade in two of the three endeavors is never discussed.

Once at camp, they’re expected to put together a new show every two weeks but oddly, we see only the tiniest of glimpses of rehearsals and the sweat associated with the task. It’s more about the forming of relationships.

Guitar-playing Vlad (Daniel Letterle) seems to be the only straight guy in a sea of musical theatre fanatics. He’s a complicated kid who isn’t sure what he wants in life, except he knows that he wants to be the center of attention. He bounces from girl to girl, like the celebrity-fixated Jill (Alana Allen), insecure Ellen and even Dee (Sasha Allen) who needs to prove there’s life beyond the music. And when he isn’t playing with the girls, he befriends and even at one point entices the fully committed homosexual, Michael. Vlad’s one confused dude.

Rocking the boat is guest director Bert Hanley (Don Dixon), a once popular Broadway songwriter turned cynical alcoholic who takes great pleasure in smashing the kids’ fragile egos. Eventually, all works out and everyone’s wounds are healed.

Lotta says: While it falls with a thud in the story department, it makes up for it with its talent. There’s no denying that the kids on screen have got what it takes to make it in musical theater. But so enamored is Graff of his kids that he sacrifices the integrity of his film. The camera lingers on every actor’s glance, every pause is lengthened, dumb jokes abound as do actors’ smirks; Dixon’s alcoholism is a running gag as he constantly pours little bottles of liquor into his soda cans. It’s so formulaic that you can even predictable the camera angles Graff will choose. As for the music, the soundtrack features original songs from Fame composer Michael Gore, as well as tracks by Stephen Sondheim and even The Rolling Stones. It’s good. It’s rated PG-13 – for mature thematic elements regarding teen sexual issues, and some language.

A note: At its Los Angeles festival premiere, Todd Graff had the audacity to stand up and proclaim these kids were nobodies, that they didn’t have union cards, suggesting he just pulled them off the street for their debuts. It should be well noted that all of the kids have experience working in theatre since they were tiny tots and some have appeared on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall; one’s currently with the Broadway National Tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar; one has oodles of musical theatre experience from Milan to Berlin. with guest appearances on TV’s “Law and Order” and others including such film credits in “Zoolander” and “Dirty Diana”. They’re hardly novices.

Additional Cast:
Shaun Steven Cutts
Spitzer Vince Rimoldi
Petie Kahiry Bess
Jenna Tiffany Taylor
Jill Alana Allen
Fritzi Anna Kendrick

Reviewed June 22, 2003