Now Reading
Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard

Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard

If Hollywood aims to bring older audiences back to theaters by making movies about them, I submit Summer Camp as a case study in what works (Eugene Levy!) and what definitely does not — painfully flat attempts at wackiness being the chief offender. Veering between strained slapstick and thoughtful tête-à-têtes, this boomer-focused reunion comedy strands a game cast of accomplished septuagenarians in a mostly laugh-free zone of zip lines and predictable beats.

Director Castille Landon’s screenplay offers some well-crafted dialogue, but it never adds up to anything resembling momentum. Landon, whose previous features include the Katherine Heigl starrer Fear of Rain and a couple of entries in the After series of romance movies, does get the setting right in a story that brings together three lifelong friends at the sleepaway camp where they first met. The friends are played by Diane Keaton (who also serves as a producer), Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard. The woodsy Camp Pinnacle is played by the real-life place of the same name in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Summer Camp

The Bottom Line

Reunions should be more memorable than this.

Release date: Friday, May 31
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodward, Eugene Levy, Dennis Haysbert
Director-screenwriter: Castille Landon

Rated PG-13,
1 hour 36 minutes

A backstory sequence reveals how the trio of misfit Pinnacle campers became inseparable in their youth. Keaton’s studious Nora (Taylor Madeline Hand), Woodard’s gentle Mary (Audrianna Lico) and Bates’ slightly older and more worldly Ginny (Kensington Tallman) had one another’s backs, especially when it came to withstanding the taunts of Pinnacle’s standard-issue mean girls, known as the Pretty Committee, and played in their present-day incarnations by Beverly D’Angelo, Victoria Rowell and Maria Howell.

Not only does this setup establish the central threesome’s personalities, but it lays down the movie’s core thesis: that 50 years later, they’re still, essentially, their tween selves. Which makes the return to their summertime stomping grounds potentially sweet and silly and poignant. Amid all the perfunctory busyness, there are glimmers of each woman’s inner kiddo.

The problem is that everyone here is quite clearly one thing, and that thing needs fixing. Keaton’s widowed executive is a workaholic, Woodard’s married emergency-room nurse is chronically selfless and put-upon, and Bates’ Ginny has turned her take-charge worldliness into a self-help empire with more than an edge of know-it-all bossiness, with a catchphrase, “Get Your Shit Together,” that’s clearly destined to boomerang on her.

Bates and Woodard can each pack a world of nuance into a gesture or glance, while Keaton’s dithery routine, as showcased here, feels calcified into distracting shtick. It’s hard to believe that hemming-and-hawing Nora is a CEO. On the other hand, the moments of vulnerability that break through her fluster have that much more impact for disrupting the pattern.

A best-selling author with a shoutily branded tour bus, Ginny strong-arms Mary and Nora, who haven’t had time for a get-together in years, to join her at Camp Pinnacle’s weeklong reunion, its very first, and surprises them with a glamping-caliber bunkhouse (the low-key production design is by Scott Daniel).

Dropping names and dispensing sex-toy gifties along with unasked-for advice, Ginny doesn’t mince words, and she has a knack for them. “It sounds like you’re hiding behind a lot of socially sanctioned hashtags,” she tells D’Angelo’s Jane — a great diagnosis for not just an appearance-obsessed character but also a virtue-signaling age. Landon’s screenplay weaves in a few well-played jabs at self-help in general, targeting familiar territory in ways that skirt cliché.

Both Nora’s tween crush, the “whip-smart” Stevie D (Levy), and Mary’s, the “handsome as hell” Tommy (Dennis Haysbert, who’s the youngster in the central cast, turning 70 a few days after the movie’s release), show up at the gathering, conveniently single and gently rekindling those long-ago flames.

See Also

Haysbert hasn’t much to do here except offer the mellifluous depths of his voice and exude good-guy vibes, which he does exceedingly well. A scene that might be the comic high point belongs to him and Woodard: a nearly wordless sequence at a pottery wheel, the intimacy and the giddiness — not to mention the phallic symbolism — well captured by cinematographer Karsten Gopinath.

Levy’s retired exec counters Nora’s compulsive devotion to her job with his relatively newfound commitment to work-life balance. More than that, the very pace and modulation of his line readings bring the movie’s sputtering, choppy energy to a compelling place of quiet.

Landon’s overreliance on back-and-forth reaction shots gives many exchanges a fidgety unease rather than letting the actors find the center of the action. It’s when things calm down that Summer Camp finds its heart and its nerve — notably in a late-night conversation among the three friends about loneliness, romance and independence, and in the two potential couples’ tentative heart-to-hearts. The humor, too, clicks better in these instances.

As to the camp staff, Josh Peck brings sweet sincerity to the role of Jimmy, a counselor in search of a calling. The reunion activities are overseen by a barely there figure of New Age equanimity who’s aptly named Sage (Nicole Richie). Mainly she provides serene and nonjudgmental ballast to the exhausting weirdness of her gung-ho assistant, Vick, with Betsy Sodaro channeling something between Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Sam Kinison.

As Summer Camp moves through its unfunny physical humor, unconvincing disasters and quickly resolved “tensions,” Tom Howe’s chirpy score assures us that everything will be OK. But along the way there are cutting zingers from Ginny, who takes no prisoners when it comes to her rid-yourself-of-toxic-relationships credo. However harsh her remarks, especially those aimed at the unhappily married Mary, we know that most of the time she’s right. We also know that Landon has drained any friction from Mary’s dilemma by making her husband (Tom Wright) so blatantly clueless and wrong for her.

And as clear as Bates makes Ginny’s self-involvement and imperiousness, she also nails how heartfelt she is when urging women — strangers and besties alike — not to settle. To Landon’s credit, she doesn’t devise a romantic “solution” for this fiercely single self-made woman.

Still, that’s the only time Summer Camp truly upends expectations. It goes where it’s supposed to go, with some well-played moments along the way and many nonstarters. When the inevitable food fight erupts, it might be an Animal House callback or, as Stevie D puts it, something out of the Three Stooges. Either way, you might be tempted to follow him when he heads for the exit.

Copyright © MetaMedia™ Capital Inc, All right reserved

Scroll To Top