When Movies Go to Camp

When I decided to do an entry on films which take place at summer camp, it seemed like a snap. But then I realized that I hadn’t, after all, seen endless movies about camp, it just felt like I had, if you counted made-for-television movies and the show “Salute Your Shorts” which I think was on Nickelodeon when I was a kid. There are also quasi-camp movies, in which the main character spends the summer at an amusement park (“Adventureland”), water park/beach house (“The Way, Way Back”) or a family-style resort (“Dirty Dancing”) and undergoes a transformation, but here are some actual camp-set movies.

Kid Movies Featuring Kids

The Parent Trap (original with Hayley Mills and remake with Lindsay Lohan)

Plot: Two girls (first young teens, then in the remake preteens) who look exactly alike meet at summer camp and take an amazingly long time to realize that they are identical twins. At first they hate each other and engage in an all-out prank out war, which gets them bounced to the “isolation cabin,” a place that should probably be condemned, but instead they become friends. Since they’re both the daughters of single parents, they decide to switch places, a scheme that will hopefully get the parents back together. Toward the movie’s end, the girls repeat their pranks when they go camping with their dad and his snooty gold-digger girlfriend, Vicky.

The parents making what I assume they’d consider a mistake, is more believable in the original “Parent Trap,” because that was way pre-Internet. The remake makes it more believable because one of the twins lives in England. Why her mom didn’t play it safe and send her to camp there, is never discussed.

Heavyweights – If you know nothing about attending fat camp, you’d probably picture it as a place where you are forced to rise at the crack of dawn for a vigorous run and round of calisthenics, before settling down to a tasty breakfast of grapefruit and diet soda. That’s what the protagonist Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) of “Heavyweights” must be envisioning because when his parents tell him he’s going, he’s not stoked. But on the way there, he meets an amiable alum and realizes that it’s more low-key – and popular enough so that most of the kids choose to return year after year.

However, new management (Ben Stiller) has decided to impose an insane regime on the campers in order to promote his new weight-loss program. Ben is truly terrifying in this role, but the rest of the young cast is easy to root for, and they do triumph in the end – both over Ben and the obligatory rival camp on Field Day.

Camp Nowhere – This movie is noteworthy because a) the movie “Accepted,” shamelessly poached the plot, and b) everyone at least on the IMDB message board noticed right away. “Accepted” is about two college freshmen (Justin Long and Jonah Hill) who set up their own college for misfits, which basically becomes a 24-7 party. “Camp Nowhere,” is about four kids who are going to various camps but don’t want to, so they set up their own camp for misfits, headed by wacky Christopher Lloyd. They have the requisite blast, and also learn some requisite lessons about growing up. The only remotely “objectionable'” thing about this movie is the fact that one of the characters (Melody Kay) is considered fat. In a Hollywood universe, that is.

Teen Movies Featuring Teens

The “American Pie” franchise: I haven’t actually seen the spinoff “Band Camp” movie, but I’ve seen the first two movies, and can’t quite forget the moment when Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) explains to Jim (Jason Biggs) about band camp and the sexual education she found there.

Camp -Plot: A frustrated songwriter (Don Dixon) heads up a drama camp, attended by various teens, including Daniel Letterle and Joanne Chilcoat. Anna Kendrick also has a pivotal role as a mousy camper who morphs into what one character calls, “a scary little girl.”

Little Darlings – Plot: A girl named (irony alert) “Angel” (Kristy McNichol) and one named “Ferris” (Tatum O’Neill) compete to see who will lose their virginity first. Lots of bonding and life lessons occur.

Adult Movies That Are Supposed to be “Serious”

Moonrise Kingdom – Plot: A girl (Kara Hayward) who feels like a misfit in her family decides to run away with her quirky friend (Jared Gilman) with whom she’s been corresponding. Jared’s character is a foster kid who leaves the camp he’s attending so he can be with her. All the characters, kids and adults learn life lessons, but it’s Wes Anderson-directed so it’s done quirkily.

Adult Movies That Aren’t Remotely Serious

Meatballs (and sequel) – Plot: Bill Murray plays a counselor at a camp full of misfits, who bonds with new camper (Chris Makepeace) who he helps boost the confidence of by training him to be a long distance runner. There’s also a lot of politically incorrect humor, including a mentally challenged character who goes by “Spaz.” Somehow, I suspect that I wouldn’t find this movie quite as hilarious as I did when I was a kid.

* Wet Hot American Summer – I have not seen this one, but it has an intriguing cast, including Janeane Garofalo and Bradley Cooper, so I thought I’d add it. Also, when Roger Ebert reviewed this movie, he did it by writing a parody of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” channeling his irritation into verse. As he put it,

“Wow, I hate this
Something fierce
Except for the astrophysicist, played by David Hyde Pierce.”

Well, at least we’ve come a way from characters named “Spaz.”

Happy vicarious camping.


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