Great comedy years are rare nowadays, but 2023 has been a particularly surprising exception to that rule.
There’s Bottoms, No Hard Feelings, Barbie, Rye Lane, They Cloned Tyrone, Murder Mystery 2, Polite Society, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Asteroid City, and maybe even The Super Mario Bros. Movie, depending on where you fall on that one. But none of those are the funniest movie of the year. That honor belongs to Theater Camp, which is now available to stream on Hulu.
Theater Camp’s premise is a summer camp classic: A sleepaway haven for misfits of a certain variety is running out of money, and the suits are breathing down its neck to take over and destroy everything that makes it great. Thankfully, there’s a way to save the camp (as there always is): with one spectacular performance that raises enough money to keep the doors open and the lights on. Unfortunately, the camp now finds itself run by the founder’s good-natured but completely oblivious son, a jock/YouTuber played to perfection by Jimmy Tatro (American Vandal).
While that plot is certainly present in the story, it’s mostly an excuse to meet a ridiculous cast of campers and counselors — played by theater veterans like Ben Platt, Molly Gordon, and Noah Galvin — who should be instantly, horrifically recognizable to anyone who’s ever had anything to do with theater, and instantly hilarious and endearing to everyone else. The movie is clearly inspired by, and lives up to, the wonderful work of Christopher Guest (especially Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman), which take similar faux-documentary looks at very silly communities.
This is part of what makes Theater Camp so special. It’s undoubtedly a movie made from deep inside the subculture it’s about, but none of its jokes are gated by time spent in the theater-kid trenches; they’re only enhanced by them. If you’ve never done anything more theatrical than witnessing a table of theater kids yelling in accents and singing, Theater Camp still has plenty to make you laugh.
One of the biggest reasons for Theater Camp’s near-universal appeal is the presence of Tatro, among the funniest working actors today. He has a tremendous talent for playing a very specific brand of genuinely good-hearted meathead, and it’s on full display in Theater Camp. For everyone else, the movie is an underdog story. For him, it’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, and he plays the role perfectly, mixing in a healthy dose of cringe comedy with a surprising amount of sports-bro heart to keep things fun.
Theater Camp’s many hilarious side characters help sell the comedy as well, like Janet Walch, played by the incredibly busy Ayo Edebiri. Janet sells herself as a stage combat expert, but she’s really just a 20-something in need of some cash. And she’s perfectly willing to have kids fake fight each other to get it.
Tatro and Edebiri are a ballast that lets the rest of the movie’s cast go to the deep end of theater jokes, personalities, earnestness, and silliness, without ever tipping the movie’s broader sense of humor. It’s a delicate balance, but one the movie manages brilliantly, never losing its charm.
If all that isn’t enough of a sell, and you still need another reason to watch Theater Camp, then congratulations, there is one: It’s only 93 minutes long. Yes, blessedly, in the age of movies that are way too fucking long, this one’s both great and barely an hour and a half.
Theater Camp is streaming on Hulu, or available to rent or buy digitally from platforms like Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, or Vudu.